Paula Bronstein’s images depict the heartbreaking situations and the enduring resilience of those living in conflict zones at Xposure 2021

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The award-winning photojournalist presented her decades-long work chronicling the lives of people trying to survive in some of the worst conflict zones

Photojournalism is not a job with a predictable schedule; it takes passion and dedication, said Paula Bronstein, Bangkok-based American photojournalist, while presenting her picture stories on the concluding day of the Xposure International Photography Festival (Xposure 2021). Her presentations depicted the incredible hardships as well as the enduring resilience of people in conflict zones in South Sudan, Afghanistan, Ukraine as well as the stateless Rohingyas of Myanmar.


Frozen lives in Ukraine

“As a photojournalist for more than three decades, I examine the underreported human, economic and political issues to expose silent victims of conflict in a variety of war-torn countries,” she said. “My series on Ukraine focuses on the vulnerable, fragile, elderly population that is frozen by conflict, trapped in a war, impoverished, and abandoned to survive in dilapidated homes.”


Ukraine has the world’s highest proportion of elderly population affected by war. The ongoing conflict has inflicted a staggering human toll on them. Pensioners have the added burden of economic hardship.

A nation in turmoil

Bronstein also provided an insight into daily life in Afghanistan, her pictures depicting several harrowing scenes: a baby, shot and wounded, suffering from severe malnutrition; and women rendered limbless by explosions and widowed by war were just a few.

“My work in Afghanistan spans around 20 years since the beginning of the war. Most of these stories are hard to tell, but I feel it is very important to tell them,” said Bronstein.

Despite the constant terror of war, life goes on for the average Afghan. People celebrate festivals, get married, and children play football. Bronstein’s work is incredibly touching, capturing the moving, expressive faces with an empathy that conveys tortured loss as well as unconditional joy with equal facility.

Her work focuses strongly on the experiences of women living in a still deeply conservative Afghanistan. “I am naturally drawn to the plight of women’s issues and the problems they face. I have been daunted by the strength and endurance of women from Afghanistan to Sudan. Many of my stories have dealt with trying to bring a voice to women who had none,” she said.


The Myanmar story

In her series on the Rohingyas, Bronstein has captured a human flow that has made headlines and prompted condemnation across the globe with an exhibition entitled ‘Stateless, Stranded and Unwanted: The Rohingya Crisis’.

Speaking about documenting the situation in Myanmar and across the border in Bangladesh, where she encountered hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees struggling to find the most basic means of survival, Bronstein said: “It is an extremely depressing situation.”

Concluding with a message for the uninitiated, Bronstein said: “War and conflict can be very stressful, and both physically and mentally challenging. I think you have to know your boundaries and understand the threat level and be prepared for the unexpected.”

The fifth edition of globally renowned Xposure International Photography Festival, that was held from February 10 to 13 at Expo Centre Sharjah, hosted several such photojournalists whose work has been instrumental in bringing awareness to compelling issues in many conflict regions.


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