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  • Editor - "The Power of Faces: Looking at the Global Refugee Crisis"

August 10, 2017

The United Nations has called the global refugee crisis the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. According to the UN, 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict or persecution. Sixty. Five. Million. People.

Numbers that gigantic can be very hard for most people to visualize or understand. Husband and wife photo team Daniel Farber Huang and Theresa Menders remind us those numbers are human lives – men, women, and children – and not just statistics.

“We have a very hard time comprehending what a massive scale of humanity 65 million people even means. And if we can’t comprehend it, how can we work to help solve it?”, said Huang. For Huang and Menders, they start one face at a time.

The duo recently returned to Chios Island in Greece to continue documenting the struggle of refugees. Chios is one of the closest Greek islands to the Turkish coast and has been one of the hotspots for refugee boat landings from Turkey. They documented conditions during the bitter winter earlier this year. Now the refugees are living in the blistering heat of summer in the Souda and Vial refugee camps on the island.

Huang and Menders realized that most everyone had lost their treasured family photos when they fled their homelands, and the two wanted to give something back this trip.

According to Menders, “Having a printed photo of family or friends is a special thing to hold in your hands and can be a great comfort in times of need. We gave people framed portraits for them to keep. We intentionally cropped out the context of the refugee camp to focus on the individuals, not their label as merely ‘refugee’.”

Heading to the camps, they brought several portable photo printers, their favorite orange backdrop and a couple hundred pounds of gear, printer paper, ink and folio frames.

Many people asked to take their portraits against the backdrop of the Aegean Sea, the very body of water they risked their lives crossing to reach Greece.

“Our goal is simple. We show people with courage, beauty, dignity and grace,” said Menders. “The enthusiasm to this portrait project was incredible. So many people were genuinely appreciative to receive proper pictures of their loved ones and friends.”

After several days taking photos in their makeshift outdoor studios, Huang and Menders were able to provide a total of 1,500 printed portraits to the residents.

Even though Huang and Menders have extensive experience doing remote fieldwork on projects around the world, having to print hundreds of portraits at the refugee camps presented new technical challenges for the team.

They and their team of volunteers worked for days outside with temperatures up to 100 degrees, baking their printers and gear. Constant winds deposited layers of dust deep into cameras, printers, and eyes, all the while trying to take proper portraits worth keeping.

Beyond the technical issues, it turns out the most challenging aspect was maintaining an orderly and enjoyable process for the many people who wanted to have their portraits taken. This was accomplished with extensive advance planning, instructions and ample signage printed in English, Arabic and Farsi explaining the purpose of the portrait project, and a simple “take a number” system to manage the heavy and excited flow of crowds.

Huang and Menders plan to continue this portrait project by going to other refugee camps around the world and providing more portraits to more people.

Check out more of Daniel Farber Huang and Theresa Menders’ work on Instagram at @huangmendersphoto

TAP Packaging Solutions supported the portrait project by donating photo folios to display and protect everybody’s prints, and Op/Tech USA provided the team support with protective gear and travel accessories for cameras and equipment.

Daniel Farber Huang collaborates with Theresa Menders on numerous documentary photography projects. They have been collaborating successfully over the past 20 years, and Huang+Menders’ documentary photos are included in the permanent collections of numerous fine art museums and historic institutions across the US. You can see more of their work on their website. Also, follow them on Instagram, Flickr and Twitter, and like their Facebook page. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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