No home in sight? They have been forced to flee from war and oppression, yet have found no peace in their new home in Jordan. In fear of persecution by the secret services, many of them shy away from official registration with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – and many of them are not officially recognised as refugees, depending on their starting point and their country of origin. Consequently, this means a time of waiting, when they can go neither forward nor back. Magnum photographer Moises Saman tells their story.
Why did you decide to cover this story in Jordan?
I moved to Jordan in early 2020, and during the first lockdowns caused by the arrival of COVID-19, I began a project looking at the ways in which the pandemic affected the lives of the large refugee population in this country. While working on this project I learned that the Sudanese refugee community was one of the most marginalized in Jordan, due to their unresolved legal status. Other communities that are also marginalized because of their lack of legal status as refugees, are the Iraqis, Somalis, and Yemenis.
We have seen so many refugee stories in recent years – have we seen it all? Have people become numb and how can we get around this?
I hope not, but there is a tendency to only see the lives of refugees from a victimization perspective, and one can easily become numb from the constant repetition. I think the challenge is to find ways to move away from this victimization, and perhaps shift the narrative to the resilience, and incredible acts of everyday heroism, that are also part of the refugee experience.
Can you tell us a little bit about their situation? What makes their situation particularly difficult?
Unable to get government assistance because of their illegal refugee status, most families face serious challenges accessing proper healthcare, education, housing; and many experience food insecurity. Their situation generally worsened as a result of the pandemic due to the effect of the lockdowns on the economy.
Was it difficult to connect with people in Jordan?
Yes, these are communities that are living in the shadows of the city, afraid of being arrested and deported. So, I collaborated closely with a local NGO, the Collateral Repair Project, that works with the most vulnerable refugee communities in Jordan. Although most of my subjects were eager to cooperate, most of them requested not to have their names published to avoid any repercussions on their asylum applications.
What motivates you while working on stories like these?
I’m motivated by the desire to stay grounded and connected with the reality around me, one that I would otherwise not engage with because of my own privileged situation. This motivation has grown since becoming a father, and I often think about how I hope to instil this sensitivity in my young daughter.
On the whole, the pictures – taken with the new Leica M11 – are a bit darker. Was that you or the camera?
I’ve always had a tendency to underexpose, and the sensitivity of the M11 allowed me to push down even further, where sometimes the hint of a highlight is the main focus of the photo.
Most of your shots are taken with a 36megapixel resolution. Do you need the maximum resolution of the M11 sensor at all?
You never know, but for me it was about being able to continue to photograph without having to change the memory card often. The camera menu feels simple and organic to use, a very welcome improvement.
Your M11 indoor shots are taken at ISO 800 or ISO 1600. How satisfied are you with the light sensitivity of the M11?
I was very happy, and in certain situations I also embraced the grain caused by photographing at high ISO’s.
How satisfied are you with the dynamic range of the M11?
I’m not a very technically-oriented photographer. In fact, I make plenty of exposure mistakes, so I was happily surprised when the dynamic range of the M11 allowed for correction after capturing the image.
The M11 pictures were all taken with the Summilux 50 f/1.4 or the Summilux 35 f/1.4. What do you appreciate about these fast lenses?
I really like the ability to work up close and in very low light.
Will your work in Jordan continue?
Absolutely, this is an ongoing project that I plan to continue in between my travels, and time with my family.
Born in Lima, Peru, in 1974, Moises Saman spent his youth in Barcelona. He studied Communication Sciences and Sociology at the California State University. After graduating, he dedicated himself to photography, and has been a member of Magnum Photos since 2014. Saman has won numerous awards, including the World Press Photo Award. In 2015 he received the Guggenheim Fellowship for his work covering the Arab Spring. Find out more about his photography on the website of Magnum Photos and his Instagram channel.
A more detailed interview with Moises Saman can be found in LFI 3/2022.