Pulitzer-winning Muhammed Muheisen at Xposure 2021: I never got to be a child in my childhood

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The celebrated photojournalist offered insights into his fascinating career as he led a discussion on the concluding day of the Xposure International Photography Festival

On the concluding day of the fifth annual Xposure International Photography Festival (Xposure 2021) world-renowned photographer, Muhammed Muheisen, recalled his decades-long journey of covering conflict worldwide, sharing the stories behind some of his most iconic images with his audience, during a session titled ‘My Journey’.


The two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner and founder of the non-profit, Everyday Refugees, Muhammed displayed a powerful collection of his work, as he spoke about his experiences documenting the lives of refugees, especially children, who he said were the ‘real victims of the wars’ across Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.


“I never got to be a child in my childhood. My childhood was spent in a conflict zone, which shaped my view of the world, and played a vital role in nurturing my passion for storytelling,” he said.  


“At the time I was covering the Iraq War, I was young, inexperienced and terrified. I thought I knew what being in a conflict zone meant but here it was different. That was a turning point in my career.”


“If something happens and is not documented, it means it never happened,” he continued, emphasising on the need for utilising photography to document war and conflict around the world.


“I went to Yemen where I was stabbed. I went to Afghanistan where I lost my best friend. I went to Syria where my heart was broken. And in the middle of this journey I realised that if I shifted my perspective, I could see a completely different world – like the innocent smile of a child in the middle of rubble,” he added.


“This is when I started focusing on children as they are the real victims of conflict. As a child, you just seek fun and joy, and that is what I try to show in my images, juxtaposed against the misery and gloom that conflict brings,” Muhammed stressed. 


Revealing the ultimate purpose behind pursuing a 20-year career in photography, he said, “I wanted to change the stereotypes. These were not just refugees or a number on the displaced populations list. These are real people with hopes and dreams and families – who were forced to leave everything behind in search of security,” he added.


He said he never forgets any of the children that he photographs and always goes back to them with any help he can offer. “I feel like I am part of their lives, and so it is important for me to document their journeys as they contribute to mine.”


“I believe through photography we can make a difference. Technology has made it possible to reach anybody at any spot in the world. We all can contribute in one way or the other and we must,” Muhammed concluded, urging the audience to try and make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.


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