Last night I attended the opening night of the EYESeeMe exhibition, curated by Humanitarian Photographer Rebecca Robyns. EYESeeMe is a registered charity set up by Rebecca that works with children and young adults from S.E. Asia many of whom are orphaned, living with HIV, marginalised, living as refugees or just abandoned.
Despite these bleak circumstances, the images in the EYESeeMe exhibition are in many cases hopeful even positive. the exhibition was opened by the Lord Mayor of Hull Cllr. Sean Chaytor to sustained applause and warmly received by a good crowd of supporters.
In the image called ‘Love’ a child looks over a mother’s shoulder, the story below the image is enough to break the sternest of hearts.
Love – By a 17 year old Thai boyI took this picture because it makes me think of a Mothers love. I have not seen my mother in a long time. She used to come to see me, I waited for a long time after that but she did not come.I do not wait anymore. “It is important to be loved…”
A photograph of a corrugated-iron well intrigued me. Closer inspection reveals another heart-rending story that elevates the original image.
The Well – By a Burmese Refugee Boy age 15The well is very important to us. Some people came and gave money for the well to be made. We can drink good water now and this helps us to think and feel fresh.I like to come to the well and look down into it, sometimes I can see my face in it or a shape.The well is also like Refugee people in the camp as we need permission to leave. I would like to be like the stream so we can go freely and not be in the well.I would like to be a great Engineer one day like my father was when he was alive.“It is important to be free and to go outside the camp”
Considering that the children get shown just the basics of photography, the images that they have created are powerful and in some cases deeply poetic. The accompanying stories written in their own words – then translated into English – allow for a deeper understanding and insight thus engaging the viewer on an emotional level.
My favourite image was an image called ‘In Shadow’ taken by a 16 year old Burmese refugee girl. Shot from behind it shows another girl peering through slats on to a yard, where other children are gathered talking. The tagline immediately resonates with me. “It is important to change an unhappy life and not hold on to our problems”.
Rebecca travels to different communities in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and on the Burmese Border, and through photography, using the ubiquitous little blue cameras, she helps sow the seeds of social change and personal empowerment.
The results of her work can be seen in the many different images in the exhibition. There is much thought behind each image, in terms of composition, subject choices, light, shade, framing. The tagline asking each child to respond to the question “What is important to them, adds yet another layer to the viewer’s experience. I asked Rebecca Robyns, what was the single most important thing achieved, by giving these children a camera to play with. Here’s her response:
The single most important thing is that, regardless of what these children have had to go through in their young lives, when they held the cameras they felt empowered and were able to communicate their very important and special story for the first time to people on the other side of the world. Rebecca Robyns EYESeeMe Project Founding Director
EYESeeMe is a heartwarming, colourful and inspirational exhibition, made all the more remarkable, when you consider the difficulties and dangers, these children and young adults are faced with. By looking at the images we open a window into their world, revealing universal truths about love, identity, friendship: the importance of belonging and the importance of having dreams.
EYESeeMe runs until 30 Sept at WISE Institute High Street, Hull
Follow on twitter: @eyeseemeproject