ShowTime @ Paniyiri festival West End 2014

I had a ball at this year’s Paniyiri Fair taking pics of some of my favorite subjects – adrenalin junkies, kids and first dates, showbags to fairy floss. Bring on the nostalgia…

Flying High

Flying High

Lens on Life in Lebanon Goes Live


Lens on Life in Lebanon Goes Live

23 August marks the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and of its Abolition in 1791. In the world today, International Labor Organization reports, slavery-like conditions still exist for an estimated 20 million people and we put the spotlight on Lens On Life in Lebanon, a photographic-essay and multimedia initiative by young migrants, women and men, working within the limitations of the Kefala [sponsorship] system – a form of modern day slavery.

No child dreams of becoming a maid or a manual labourer. But driven by poverty, political instability and war, waves of Africans and Asians take on such work every year in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East in hope for a better life and to provide for their families, often away from the support of friends and family.

In Lebanon, migrant workers clean our homes and help raise our children. They build the offices we work in and tend to the food we eat.  Yet employers are known to violate the kefala system by interpreting their responsibility of these migrant workers to be ownership.

It is a situation faced by the 200,000+ migrant domestic workers – mainly women – who find themselves behind closed household or factory doors in vulnerable conditions including: passports confiscated to prevent freedom of movement, physical and psychological abuse, no legal recognition to dispute unfair trade or treatment, and unable to marry and found a family.

Male migrant workers, the majority manual labourers and hired help in small businesses, are also subject to the kefala system, which has long rooted racist ideologies dating back to the times of slave trade and European Colonisation of the Arab world. Viewed as unworthy by bourgeoisie Lebanese society, many male migrant workers live in fear of harassment by employers, Lebanese police and soldiers.

Adopting laws against the kefala system does not automatically translate into a practical abolishment, often because of the strength of traditional attitudes in Lebanese society and its legal systems. Such strong social stigma combined with lack of human rights initiatives means that many migrant workers today are at the mercy of their employers & recruitment agencies. Invisible to the outside world, the majority of migrant workers are silently subject to discrimination and abuse with the threat of detention, unpaid wages, arrest, and deportation should they demand their rights.

Reframing Perceptions: Agents of Positive Change

Indeed, it is also difficult to see any hope for the migrant worker in Lebanon who is caught in this predicament of servitude. And while it’s not uncommon to see news headlines reporting on migrant workers dogged by exposés into their dark realities of the abusive employers, racial misconduct, and suicide scandals, we know little of the migrant worker’s story, as they see it: their views of the country, their lives here, and the dreams that inspire them.

Lens on Life in Lebanon attempted to answer these questions through a unique participatory photography workshop and exhibition held at AltCity in Hamra, Beirut in Dec 2012. Fifteen migrant workers, majority from Sudan and Ethiopia working as maids, cooks, and hired-help, offer a glimpse into their everyday lives to illustrate alternative visual narratives away from the “shock-value” depicted in mainstream media.

This hard-to-reach group barely surface in the public domain, the lucky few who do manage to get time off work attend free language and computer classes at AltCity on Sundays hosted by Migrant Workers Task Force (MWTF). The project facilitators were therefore able to teach fifteen migrant workers in simple skills in photography using their mobile phones and PhotoVoice storytelling methodology to build an awareness-raising, visual campaign by focusing their attention to the positive contribution they make in their community. The objective of using non-threatening visual narratives is to breakdown social barriers and gives these ‘faceless victims’ the respect they so rightly deserve.

“We know little of the migrant worker’s story, as they see it: their views of the country, their lives here, and the dreams that inspire them.”

The multi-lingual workshop was taught in English, Arabic and French to ensue activities were clearly communicated and culturally appropriate for the participants. Providing translation between facilitators and participants ensured that the students could discuss subject matter, take photos, debated which ones to select, and write captions and titles for their images.

To ensure one’s safety, the use of personal mobile phone cameras was the preferred method of capturing images. This small, unassuming device is a powerful tool for non-obtrusive image capturing without drawing unwanted hostility and suspicion by onlookers in places where picture taking is uncommon.

Individuals came back to class each week with a range of experiences, a visual autobiography focusing on the small pleasures and joyful moments of daily life.  Beyond the alarmist news headlines of violence, trauma, and suicide rates, these photographs are the means to convey a message one would not expect from the migrant worker – the intimate spaces, people, and perspectives that they wanted to share of their lives.

Despite the fact that migrant workers are left to fend for themselves due to little or no protection from labour laws, their governments or recruitment agencies these images, as a collective narrative, these images create a space to articulate and validate cultural diversity, resilience, self-worth.

“I am very happy with my new photography skills, I poured my soul inside-out through my photographs.”

Such unseen realities of the migrant worker, even though a rare minority illustrates a deeper level of understanding about individuals forming strong social-cultural networks, perusing meaningful work opportunities, applying themselves in education, making much needed economic contributions to family members back home and within the Lebanese community.

Lens on Life in Lebanon highlights the small but important victories of the migrant worker, these triumphs of human spirit.

A Multimedia Approach to Advocacy:

Following the success of the Lens on Life in Lebanon workshop and exhibition, the visual collective is now part of a permanent online gallery Lens On Life Multimedia produced by the programs’ co-facilitator Ann Megalla. Her hope is that by sharing the participant’s stories using words, pictures and videos will spark more interaction between host and migrant communities, strengthen links that already exist, and build bridges where there are none.

Working with the participant’s images, unreleased video interviews, and formative research including infographics and accumulative report extracts, the producer’s intent is to illustrate a dynamic, holistic view of migrant worker issues in Lebanon integrating the migrant community, key NGOs and grassroots stakeholders, and social media dialogue.

The legacy of Lens on Life Multimedia is to ensure that members of the community, institutions, and agents of change will use the site as an effective, sustainable tool for advocacy. At it’s core the website is an initiative to mobilise local and international community to get informed, spread the word, raise a voice to challenge societal views, and governing bodies, that have shaped the current system that fails to protect our migrant workers and remedy their grievances.

Lens on Life in Lebanon: Photo-Essay Workshop & Exhibition

participation3Project Scope
‘Lens on Life in Lebanon’ is a photo-essay workshop initiative I led in partnership with Migrant Worker’s Task Force & Netherlands Embassy in Lebanon to introduce 15 migrant domestic workers to learn photography as a tool for developing a small-scale photo-essay project for practical media training, social inclusion and advocacy.

A series of 5x2hour workshops (from Nov 11 to Dec 9 2012) was taught by me and co-founder of and media studies lecturer at AUB & LAU, Dima Saber. Together with the help of a small group of facilitators, students from various ethnic backgrounds including Sudanese, Ethiopian and Cameroonian, learned not only the art of photography and digital storytelling, but also, take part in a supportive social network integrated in an educational setting.

Based on PhotoVoice teaching resources on participatory photography, at its simplest,  photography is an accessible tool for self-expression: it can be quickly learned and it’s not difficult for people to take decent pictures either through their mobile phone devices or digital cameras. Digital images gives instant results, and requires no formal training to become an effective tool for communication, observation and creativity.

Specifically, the process can help students build relationships; gain confidence and feel valued; learn the language of photography and its practices; reflect safely on their lives and experiences; gain new skills; communicate and self-express



Overcoming Language Barriers
The multi-lingual course was taught in English and translated in Arabic and French. Providing translation between facilitators and participants ensured that activities and explanations were clearly communicated and culturally appropriate for the participants.

Photography is useful creative tool for participants with limited levels of English. The language of images offers an opportunity for communication using only a few words. Our aim was to show visually with simple captions (in both Arabic & English translation) things around them, which they think are important, interesting, new, or exciting.

Exploring identities
By teaching the participants to turn the lens on themselves and their neighbourhood, we saw over time the formation of a visual autobiography, offering a unique opportunity to explore, study and communicate issues of identity, integration, memory, friendship, hopes & aspirations.

At its core, Lens on Life in Lebanon reflects the process of creating new identities, a process of re-building and re-negotiating self-identity.



Lens on Life in Lebanon Exhibition: a Tool for Public Communication
Lens on Life Exhibition was launched at AltCity during festivities held at Community Day on Dec 16, in honour of International Migrant’s Day on Dec 18 & International Human Rights Day on Dec 10, 2012.

The Exhibition received a positive response not only from the students, peers and event organisers, but also in the media. Offering a unique opportunity for the participant to take great pride in their work, as they see other people take their work seriously and take note of what they have to say.

We are all too aware that public opinion is broadly unsympathetic towards migrant domestic workers living in Lebanon.  Endemic negative issues, such as, racism & violence towards domestic migrant workers and high-suicide rates are well documented in the media.

During our participatory photography project however, the students were in control of their own image production, offering the potential to give the power of representation back to those who are traditionally subjects of the media.

For the first time, a new president in positive media production of migrant domestic workers was produced through Lens on Life in Lebanon. As observed in The Daily Star:

It is common knowledge that migrant domestic workers in Lebanon have a hard time. What’s not so easy to ascertain is how they view the country, their lives here and their employers… [a]s a general rule the photo essays are overwhelmingly positive. Most focus on the small pleasures and joyful moments of daily life…”

The Future of ‘Lens on Life in Lebanon’
Over time, the resulting project aims to be a powerful and versatile online multimedia campaign for conveying a story, a call to action, dialogue and conversation with beneficiaries who can make the difference, and add value and impact to an advocacy campaign.

The key ways in which such a multimedia online project can add value to an advocacy campaign include: sustainable contribution to migrant integration, personal testimonies, a new perspective on a familiar issue, adding integrity to community organizations, allowing new voices to be heard, building foundations for ongoing campaigns, and reaching new audiences in new ways.



Press & Social Media links to Community Day & ‘Lens on Life in Lebanon’ Exhibition @ AltCity:

Infographics: Visualizing Human Rights for Migrant Workers in Lebanon @ AltCity