Tender Photographs Tell Stories From Marginalized Communities


Regardless of whether people intentionally listened for it in the news or not, the horrors that have been happening in Africa and the Middle East are well known. Common Ground Photographs by Fazal Sheikh at the Denver Art Museum features over 170 photographs from displaced and marginalized communities. Through these portraits, visitors gain first hand knowledge of the situation and the story behind each one.

“There are more than 65.6 million refugees in the world. . .numbers like that are incomprehensible” says Eric Paddock, curator of the exhibit. Many people fail to realize just how many people are involved in this great ordeal. Through Fazal Sheikh’s photographs, viewers will realize what it is like to live a life as a refugee. Unlike most of the media that got their photos and left, Sheikh often stayed at a camp for months at a time in order to really get to know the people and hear their stories. “There is a real connection between the photographer and the people. You can feel the tenderness” (Paddock).

Beside each section of photographs is a theme such as “Ether” or “A Camel for the Son”. One theme that really stuck with me was “Moksha” (a belief in India). It is like enlightenment, except, instead of being more knowledgeable of the world around you, you were freed from your past and loved and saved by Krishna. A widowed woman is almost shunned by society and the only place where she could really feel safe and less alone was a place called Vrindavan. Thousands of women, widowed or just outcast, would journey there, sometimes with only 500 rupees (less than 8 US dollars), trusting that Vrindavan would bring them comfort and safety. There, they would chant for 8 hours at a time and beg on the streets for money to pay rent. The photographs all tell their separate stories of the hardships these men and women face.

We are all built on common grounds and share common values, no matter the environment we live in. Life should be valued everywhere. Just because a person lives in poverty, it doesn’t mean that they are less than a person than someone wealthy. We never know where life will take us, so don’t take what you have for granted and respect others.