Thirty thousand men, women and children from Sudan’s Blue Nile State sought an end to nine months of terror and trauma when they crossed the border into neighboring South Sudan in June 2012, becoming refugees for the first time in their lives. They joined a population of 70,000 who preceded them in fleeing Khartoum’s deadly military campaign to crush the northern remnant of the Southern liberation movement. The journey, made perilous by the dearth of water and food as well as the risk of ambush and attack, required weeks of walking after months of internal displacement.
The traumatic upheaval in their lives was wholly new for these individuals but it was hardly a novel phenomenon in the region. How does one represent their story in a way that doesn’t blend into the thousands of pictures previously taken in similar situations? How does one represent a nightmarish saga in a static image?
While I struggled with these questions, I noticed the shoes. The incredible array of worn-down, ill-fitting, and jerry-rigged shoes formed a silent testimony to the arduous nature of the journey, the persistence and ingenuity of their owners, and the diversity of these individuals thrown together by tragic circumstance.
I also photographed each pair’s owner, but omitted those portraits from the final work. The name, age and gender are cited in the caption but the viewer is asked to imagine who is the person whose feet were in these shoes. The viewer cannot dismiss the subject as the familiar, pitiable “other” so easily if they are not confronted with a face different from their own. I hope the omission creates a greater human connection between the viewer and the subject, that it elevates the work above the standard simplistic narrative of victimization so often seen in the media.