Revealing what is hidden in plain sight: World Photography Day x World Humanitarian Day
19th August 2021
This 19th of August 2021, we celebrate World Photography Day and World Humanitarian Day, to pay tribute to the humanitarian workers around the world risking their life in their mission to help those most vulnerable.
This occasion offers us the opportunity to highlight the work of humanitarian photographers who try to shed a light on the scourge of modern slavery through their camera lenses. Since the invention of the camera in 1839, photography has been used to portray slavery, both by the abolitionists and slavers. Hence, visual representations have in some instances been tainted by colonialism and white supremacy.
Instead, cites a report by the University of Nottingham Rights Lab, “photography should seek to portray the true reality of modern slavery” by trying to impact the public, while being at the same time of service to the survivors.
Two photographers worth highlighting on this year’s World Photography Day and World Humanitarian Day have done precisely this, adopting two different perspectives.
British photographer Amy Romer shows, in a series of haunting images in her book The Dark Figure, what she calls “slavery next door.” These images show what seems to be completely normal British locations like suburban neighborhoods or farms, and Romer adds descriptions of the modern slavery crimes that have occurred on those unassuming places. By not portraying any people in her images and only showing seemingly everyday locations, Romer’s work pushes us to wonder what has happened there. With her photographs, Romer captures the idea that “slavery is happening on our doorstep”, challenging thus the common misconceptions that slavery is something that occurs elsewhere, far from us.
From another perspective, American humanitarian photographer Lisa Kristine also aims to “shine a light on slavery.” Since 2009, she documents modern slavery, from brick kilns in India and Nepal, to fisheries on Lake Volta in Ghana and in brothels in India. Keen to show that slavery happens everywhere, and can be “hidden in plain sight” she has also captured modern slavery in the US. Through her work, she aims to show our shared humanity, and convey that we are all “brothers and sisters”. Kristine uses her work as a means to fight modern slavery by raising awareness and making us see the injustice that happens all around us.
The work of these two photographers shows how photography can make something seemingly invisible and hidden, visible. Their images also have an impact on how we see and imagine modern slavery, showing the pervasive nature of it and how close it is to us all.
Their work is also a source of inspiration to us at slavefreetrade. Just as Romer’s and Kristine’s lenses reveal injustices that are hidden right in front of us, slavefreetrade is helping organisations put human rights compliance at the centre of business decisions in order to fight modern slavery exactly where it can most easily pass unnoticed—in the intricacies of increasingly complex and opaque modern supply chains.
This article was authored by Daniel Perez Whitaker, Director of Impact Communications at slavefreetrade