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Using Portraiture to Highlight Immigrant Stories in the UK

Arteh Odjidja is a photographer in London. His project ‘Stranger Series’ highlights stories of young migrants and refugees in the UK.

“The goal is to celebrate them and their journey, but also their future,” he shares.

Video Transcript

Meet Arteh: Portrait Photographer

Arteh Odjidja: Hey Rakiba.

Rakiba: Hi.

Arteh: How are you?

Rakiba: Fine, and you?

Arteh: I’m really, really good.

Portraiture is a wonderful tool to really give people back the power to represent themselves in their best light and the way that they maybe want to be perceived to the world.

Arteh’s project, “Stranger Series,” highlights stories of young migrants and refugees.

(Speaking on the phone) Yeah, great. Okay, Rakiba, that’s wonderful. Thank you for your time.

The process of working with these young people for the project really is about getting to know them. I really enjoy just taking time to either give them a phone call, meet them in person, learn about their story a bit more. And what I end up doing is finding locations in cities that really speak to their aspirations. The goal is to really celebrate them and their journey, but also their future.

London

(Speaking with Rakiba about her portrait) And what I want the portrait to do is I want you to be your most confident. So we’ll take a few shots and what will happen is, we’ll be like, “Oh no, the face isn’t right here, or the arms aren’t right, whatever.”

Rakiba: Yeah.

Arteh: And then we’ll do a review, and then we’ll just keep going.

When I found out her story of coming from Syria to live in the UK and how they’ve lost so much at home — she’s very much a hero in terms of how she’s picked herself up, learned English, and just decided to have a better life for herself, and worked really hard to get it.

(Speaking to Rakiba) I love that focus in your eye.

She really wants to be a teacher — and more specifically, a science teacher. So South Kensington around science museum and places like that, I think really spoke to her aspiration.

(Looking at photos with Rakiba) I like that one as well.

Portraits are such a natural way to basically be in someone’s life for a few minutes and really learn so much about them. The issue that I find with the way we represent people from migrant refugee backgrounds is the way we talk about them. We don’t talk about the individual. We talk about this big number, this mass. I think that’s key for the public. They don’t understand that there are these individual stories, these aspirational elements to each and every person.

(Snapshots of finished portraits of Rakiba)

(Speaking to Rakiba) So what you could do, you could actually look past me. So when I say look past me, almost look above my head almost. There you go, like this. And I also want you to stand like you’re proud of who you are.

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