#Phonar Session 5 – Dalia Khamissey Reflection.

Born and raised in Lebanon, Dalia Khamissey has lived her life surrounded by war. Studying photography in a fine arts university, Khamissey became interested in documentary photography and being able to tell stories about people. In 2002, she went to Iraq on a humanitarian mission and in 2004, she lived on the border of Iraq for 30 days with refugees who had fled after the invasion. Having never been taught how to publish work and didn’t have contact with someone who could explain how, this work was wasn’t published but exhibited. Khamissey also spent some time as a photo editor for AP, working 16 hours a day with no time to eat. She stopped taking pictures after the war for 8 months, however visited the south with another photographer capturing abandoned houses after the invasion. Khamissey felt connected with the houses as they reflected how she felt the war had left her – destroyed and abandoned. As she feels strongly about personal, intimate space, she felt uncomfortable about being able to enter these homes without even knocking. She also expressed how this privacy becomes public through the war. Having her father disappear for 3 days at the age of 7 and eventually being told stories about people being kidnapped, this lead to the beginning of The Missing in 2005. Khamissey photographed old women being treated badly by the police holding pictures of their husbands and son’s hoping to find where they are. She was no longer in denial of what was happening and wanted to understand what happened. Benjamin Chesterton became aware of Khamissey’s strong idea and came to Lebanon to work on it with her. She speaks of the reality of how some may die without ever knowing the fate of their missing loved ones, how time is so precious. After being given a grant for work a photographer should to do engage society, Khamissey worked with youths all over the country created 10 groups who visited the families of the missing and told their story – each group exhibited it to their communities. She decided to work with them as they are the ones going out to fight in these wars. The work will be updated and made viewable through a blog and Facebook, with the intention of it spreading for many to see. 3 key points Khamissey advises us to consider is the photographer should realise they are very privileged to be able to tell peoples stories. They should show respect for the people they are documenting and finally, tell the story how it is.

It was really interesting to hear Dalia Khamissey’s story of growing up surrounded by war and how at first she was in denial of telling those stories, it wasn’t what she wanted to do. However after being able to empathise with the disappearance of her father, she used this tragic experience to her advantage and rather than shying away from it, she has faced it in order to create a really important, moving piece of work. Something which interested me about Khamissey herself was that she recognised there were lots of artists doing work about the missing but she wasn’t sure of how to work on it herself. She was also scared she would be hurt, showing how she has to consider detaching herself from the situation and the stories. This made me think back to Lisa Potts telling her story and as we discussed in class, some considered how it was possible for her to be able to tell that story without being emotionally attached. Would have Khamissey been able to tell these people’s story in the same way if they ended up affecting her personally? I think this highlights the fact that we have to detach ourselves in order to tell other people’s and even our own stories in order for us to create an ‘account’ of something. By being involved emotionally, the story could become biased. Khamissey also spent a year researching the project before she began, making me think back to David Campbell’s talk of the necessity of understanding context before making the picture. By making sure she understood fully, she was confident and able to produce a thoughtful, knowledgeable response of these stories.

It really stood out to me how respectful Khamissey is of the people she photographed. As she explained while she was asking refugees if she could take their picture, one time someone just drove past in a car taking pictures without asking anybody’s permission. She encourages us to appreciate how privileged we are to be able to tell people’s stories and makes sure they are comfortable with her doing so. This made me think back to Robbie Cooper and his work with Immersion where he made all of his shoots comfortable for his participants to tell their story. They are both highlighting the importance of ‘looking after’ their subjects and I think this is really important as a photographer. Khamissey is so aware of privacy and personal space, highlighted with how uncomfortable she felt entering abandoned houses and she reflects this by being so passionate about respecting the people you are photographing and I think this is really powerful. Another key point Khamissey advised us to consider is tell the story how it is. This made me think back to the quote from Haden White, “every narrative however seemingly full is constructed on the basis of a set of events which might have been included but were left out”. David Campbell also talked about how narrative fails because it cannot be full and include every aspect of the story. I think Khamissey making this point argues against that because yes although she may not be able to capture every aspect of somebody’s story, she explains how important it is not to play the event up or down. In her case, the horror was so true there was no need for her to exaggerate however she still recognises the importance of truth, something that is becoming increasingly lost in the progression of the photograph to the image.

Dalia Khamissey’s talk can be listened to here.


~ by victoriasimkissphotography on October 30, 2014.

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