Thana Faroq – I Don’t Recognize Me in the Shadows

Review by Gerhard Clausing

Thana Faroq is not only a successful exiled woman from Yemen who found a new home in the Netherlands, she is also an excellent storyteller who uses her considerable photojournalistic talents to present us with a captivating account of the travails of age-old sojourns, once again taking place in our own time.

This project puts us in touch with uncertainty. Escaping from threatening conditions – warfare or dictatorship or economic impossibilities, or all of the above – is an arduous process. You are putting your faith almost entirely in the hands of others, whom you are imbuing with greater expectations than those that caused havoc in your previous existence. Yet the wait can be long, the outcome unpredictable. The sadness of having to give up your homeland is already weighing heavily on you; add to that the anxiety of whether you will be granted asylum, and the stress level is enormous. At least you are surrounded by others in your camp or ‘group residence’ – while you are certainly isolated, you are not alone.

This process is mirrored by the design and contents of this photobook. The cover has a wrap-around extension that features bright lights and a sunset, kind of like a safety blanket to wrap yourself in as you try to comprehend these overwhelming situations. A bit of bright warm light from the cover is always visible on your left as you look at all the pages, as shown in the images below. The situation in the camps, moving between them, and brief exposés of fellow asylum-seekers make up the bulk of the book, and that major section is bookended by color images of memories of life in the homeland.

The moods depicted are mostly somber and reflective of the refugee existence without clear-cut identities, a kind of existence that is an in-between stage of life. Symbolism takes a greater role than words. The birds on the wire represent the hope to succeed, even in the presence of failure, facing an overwhelming new world to be overcome. The halls of the camps are indicative of a strange new world and its (hopefully temporary) isolation from former friends, your family, and your future.  The brief capsules on a number of individuals provide glimpses of their lives, their worries, and their hopes, presented in handwritten notes that cover their first names; they represent thousands of others. The notes are accompanied by portraits taken behind glass with droplets – they look a bit like tears, or are they representative of the rainier weather of Northern Europe that differs quite a bit from the climate of origin?

Faroq also makes excellent use of camera ‘shake’ and movement to imply being shuffled from camp to camp, or, for instance, when she depicts facing border guards. The compositions of her photographs are well executed to emphasize the isolation felt by the refugees. All double pages, as shown below, are printed ‘full bleed,’ that is, there are no margins. Thus the images on display are all are all more than 45 by 30 cm, or 18 by 12 inches; this is a size that makes the viewing engrossing and impactful.

All in all, Thana Faroq succeeds in transmitting the anxieties of the refugee situation most effectively, through her attentive and meticulous documentation process and her artful narrative. Sybren Kuiper has added his special designer’s  touch to it that makes a difficult subject direct and palatable at the same time. This book gives us much food for thought and should also generate a greater understanding of the situation and greater empathy for the asylum-seekers. It is an outstanding example for projects of this kind, in that the photographer, though a participant in the process, also maintains the necessary artistic overview to achieve universal impact, both in the level of personalized documentation and also in regard to the emotional appeal of the book.

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Thana Faroq – I Don’t Recognize Me in the Shadows

Photographer:  Thana Faroq (born in Yemen; lives in The Hague, Netherlands)

Publisher:  Lecturis, Netherlands; © 2020

Essay:  Thana Faroq; testimonials by fellow refugees and asylum seekers

Language:  English

Softcover, illustrated, embossed wrap-around, Swiss binding; 168 pages, unpaginated; 23.4 x 31 cm (9.25 x 12.25 inches); printed in the Netherlands by Jos Morree Fine Books; ISBN: 9789462263932

Photobook Designer:  -Syb- (Sybren Kuiper)

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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