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Alaska Quarterly Review

Excerpted from "Liberty and Justice (For All): A Global Photo Mosaic"

Giles Duley

Giles Duley
Fir Ahamad, 30, and his brother Noor, 40, in a refugee camp in Bangladesh in 2009. Fir suffers from an unknown illness that causes severe joint pain. Giles Duley

In 2009, I was working on a portrait series of Rohingya refugees, members of a minority ethnic group in Myanmar who have fled across the border into Bangladesh. I set up a small makeshift studio at a camp in Kutupalong, and the village elders agreed to gather a few people the following morning. When I arrived it was like a triage center. The Rohingya wanted me to document their sick and dying.

Among them were Noor Ahamad and his younger brother, Fir. Fir winced in pain and whimpered as I took their photo. His brother stood, strong impassive, holding almost all of his weight. A wasting disease had reduced Fir to a bag of fragile bones.

More and more people gathered outside, suffering and desperate. One by one they showed me their ailments, begging for help. I grew worried that they thought I could be of more practical assistance.

“Do they understand I’m not a doctor?” I asked their leader.

“They know,” he replied, ”but for now a photographer is all they have. At least you can show people what is happening here.”

I find it harder and harder to define liberty and justice. Yet I realize my work has been defined by a desire to document those who have neither. It is unjust that the chance circumstances of birth can deprive millions of innocent people of their basic human rights. We must address this in solidarity. Although I have few answers, I have found purpose in documenting those, like the Rohingya, who have neither justice nor liberty.

I have paid a price for this work. I lost three limbs from an explosion in Afghanistan. No one photograph is worth that price. But I still believe that the principle is worth more than we recognize. We must at least try to give a voice to those less fortunate, people such as these, to be their witness.

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Page Updated: 3/22/12  By:  Jeffery Oliver