Right to Be Seen Project, Oslo Red Cross
Right to be Seen, Oslo Red Cross provides follow-up, work practice and volunteer lead activities to survivors of human trafficking in the Oslo area. In 2019 Right to be Seen ran a series of photography workshops where participants used the camera to record their daily lives, to get to know their environment, or to change focus.
As a creative medium photography offers survivors a visual way to express and explore their experiences and feelings. This can be particularly useful in instances when words are not enough or when there is a language barrier.
When facilitated in a non-judgemental and safe environment photography workshops can help survivors reach new understandings of and frame their experiences. The nature of photography allows for a unique process of choice and control in the forming of visual narratives. New beginners and more experienced photographers alike are able to determine their own focus, select what they include or exclude and can edit or delete. As Mai D. describes “With photography we capture the positive and negative in life but we get to edit… We get to take another picture if the first one doesn’t turn out the way we want, and we get to keep the best version of our experiences”.
This process of creation and selection allows survivors to share a part of their story on their own terms and to present themselves in a way that they want to be seen. This stands in contrast to survivors’ stories being conveyed by third parties, which is often the case.
The workshops utilised a trauma sensitive approach and promoted autonomy and control throughout the process. The promotion of autonomy and control is particularly important in the early stages of recovery, given that human trafficking is characterised by an extreme lack of control- control over ones environment, ones own body and daily life. The act of decision making, as well as a general sense of control is something which often needs to be re-claimed.
The group setting facilitates for positive social experiences and presents opportunities for survivors to begin to build trust with others. Photography acts as a vehicle for group members to share, be seen and be curious about each other, whilst allowing the focus to be shared between the photographer and their image. Additional one-to-one sessions let participants go at their own pace, as well as providing space for discussions that they are not yet ready to share within the group.
The images that follow were first displayed as part of an outdoor exhibition at Rådhusplassen in September 2019. The title ‘Out of the Darkness’ was chosen by the participants to convey an aspect of their time in Norway.
*All names are anonymous artist names.
I come from Eastern Europe and grew up in a small village. The village I come from has gotten a little better in the time I have been in Norway. There is still a lot of corruption, of course, but they have begun to clean it up. Now there are flowers and Christmas lights at Christmas, it’s become safer than it was.
I see the world as black and white. Things are either good or bad, have a higher value or a lesser value. The same with people, I believe that you are either a good person or a bad person.
When I came to Norway it wasn’t easy for me to orient myself in such a big city like Oslo. Through photography I begun find my way around and got to know different areas of the city. Photography has also helped me to get to know others in the city.
Whilst in Norway I have been collecting bottles to make money. I see that there are many that do this here. When I leave Norway, I won’t be that person anymore, the person that goes around the street and collects bottles. I will go to another country and work in a restaurant, as a cleaner or in a nursing home.
From a life of temporariness to a future
I am from Asia and came to Norway due to the situation in my home county. I applied for asylum but when my claim was rejected, I had to live on the streets. I was desperate and began to work without a permit. However, it quickly turned in to a difficult situation. The work was hard, I worked long hours and I was paid so little that I had to collect bottles or take food from the dumpster in order to eat. After three years there was an inspection where I worked, and I got help as a victim of human trafficking.
I witnessed in a court case against my previous boss and got residency because I witnessed in the case. As I didn’t have a passport, I only got a one-year permit with limitations, whilst I waited for my passport to arrive. Due to complications with receiving my passport and the long case processing time at UDI I received my residency permit four years later.
During these four years I have had to live in an asylum center. However, as many of the asylum center closed have ended up living in four asylum centers in total. The last years have been incredibly difficult for me, moving from asylum center to asylum center, living temporarily and waiting to receive my residency permit. I addition, I have struggled with several trauma related symptoms. It has been difficult for me to sleep, difficult to remember, difficult to keep appointments and I find that I am always losing things.
My photographs give an insight in to how life has been for me the last four years.
My life has been difficult in South America, where I was born and in other parts of the world where I have lived. I want to thank God, who sent I person to help me to get to Norway. God has given me strength to live. I also want to thank all of the people I have met whilst I have been here in Norway. They have helped me to grow and have helped me to see life in a different way.
I use photography to focus on the positive in life. With photography we capture both the positive and negative in life, but we get to edit. We get to delete the parts of the past that we don’t want to accept. We get to take another picture in the first one doesn’t turn out the way we want, and we get to keep the best version of our experiences.
Never give up (second chance)
I grew up in a slum in Africa with three brothers and two sisters. Our parents passed away when we were young so we grew up without any parents around.
I have struggled a lot in life and there have been many challenges. I have sometimes reached the point where I wanted to give up, but I never did. What got me through was my love for my family and my memories of them.
After I reached Norway, life slowly started to get better. I went back to school, I travelled to places and countries and began in work practice. I also met different people and organizations, like Red Cross. The love I felt began to replace some of the love I have been missing from having parents.
These photos are a reflection of my life. I encourage people to never give up in life, no matter what. I hope that someone who feels like giving up can see my pictures and read my story and take me as an example.