A sweeping show of photography and programming focused on the global refugee crisis has opened at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City. Although a show of this scale can take two years to plan and carry out, Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation swung into high gear last September, around the time that refugees in crowded boats began swarming ashore in Lesbos, Greece, according to Elizabeth Biondi, who curated the show along with the Annenberg's Pat Lanza.
Five award-winning photographers--photojournalists Lynsey Addario, Tom Stoddart, and Graciela Iturbide, portraitist Martin Schoeller, and fashion photographer Omar Victor Diop---were commissioned and supported by the Annenberg's foundation to focus on segments of the 60 million refugees fleeing conflict across the globe. The results not only show the grit and determination of the refugees, but, according to Stoddart, "the strength of human beings to recover and rebuild." Stoddart talked about watching the refugees come ashore in crowded inflatable boats. "What stopped me was how desperate you must be to put your children on one of these things," he said. And his heart went out as well to the elderly who arrive on foreign shores, "who've lived their entire lives in a city in Syria. The courage it takes to leave when they know they are going to die in a foreign land...When they do land, the relief, the sense of elation is amazing."
Stoddart echoed the sentiments of all the photographers when he said how important it was to humanize the crisis, to put a face on the numbers and turn the statistics into human beings. He talked about the huge mountains of life jackets piled high on Lesbos, each one representing a person. "These people are just like us,' he said. "We need to reach out and realize it could be any one of us."
The photographers documented refugee populations in Myanmar and Bangladesh (Addario), Greece into Europe (Stoddart), South America (Iturbide), Africa (Diop) and the United States (Schoeller). The work is beautifully printed and displayed along with some other smaller exhibits and is presented along with a moving and informative film called "Refugee" that follows each photographer on their journey of discovery as they explore the plight of different groups of refugees. It is a moving tribute to the determination and dedication shown by the photographers as they tell the stories the refugees cannot.