Raising awareness and funds for refugees through photojournalism…
Whether you turn on the TV to the news channels or scroll through your Facebook feed, more often than not, there will be a segment or feature on the refugee crisis. Many are calling it the defining crisis of our generation. As people living in Hong Kong, we can often feel removed from what we see on our screens and become debilitated and unsure of what difference we can make. One expat, Alexander Treves decided to put his concerns to action. Coming from a finance background, he has had the chance to travel the world and be exposed to a variety of cultures and issues. With a passion for photography, he has created a photo book, “Glimpses Over the Edge”, that documents the plight of refugees all over the world, including Hong Kong. Find out more about his work and how you can get involved in this edition of Sassy Mama Supports.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the world of photography and writing.
I’ve been working in finance for over 20 years, and have been lucky to have lived in Singapore, Tokyo, Mumbai and Hong Kong – as well as London, where I’m originally from. Outside the office, photography, particularly of people on the margins of society, has been a passion for several years. Increasingly, I want to go beyond documenting social issues to helping to fix them. The writing is secondary: it personalises the people in the photos, to show that they are individuals and not just statistics, to try making a connection with the reader – using names, backgrounds, stories.
How did the book come about?
The book contains photographs of refugees who were originally from a dozen countries. The photos are accompanied by an account which sets the individuals’ lives into the context of this vast global problem. The design of the book is a metaphor for the stories inside. This is not a glossy coffee table book: it is small, light, portable. The screen-printed cover is made from the corrugated cardboard used in disposable packaging, bound in lifejacket orange. Photographs travel across pages, printed on matt paper: it’s an appropriately dark document.
What inspired you to create, “Glimpses Over the Edge”?
Initially I stumbled into the cause, but the more I learned about the issues facing refugees the more I wanted to do something positive. I began building a body of photos and stories and then was able to take some time out from work and turn this into a fuller project. Every photographer wants to see their photos in a book, so I made that happen – with the intention that sales of the book could help people like those I was documenting.
I was very lucky to be introduced to the designer, Ayumi Higuchi, because she created a really compelling object, a photo book which is interesting to handle rather than something shiny that you look at once and then set aside.
How have your travels impacted the way you see the refugee crisis around the word?
The scale of the problem is staggering. I visited Zaatari in Jordan, then home to 75,000 refugees living behind barbed wire in the desert. And on the Greek island of Lesvos is a dump called The Graveyard, where there are over 300,000 lifejackets – from refugees and also economic migrants who’ve made their way across the water from Turkey. These things need to be seen to be believed.
The refugee crisis is broader than many people realise: sometimes the media suggests that this is an issue primary affecting the West but that simply isn’t true. The vast majority of refugees are housed in developing rather than developed countries.
For all the complexity of the problem, I witnessed a number of common experiences and challenges. And it really affected me that without exception, the refugees that I met in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, treated me with kindness and generosity.
What are some organisations you’ve come across that are making strides with refugees in Hong Kong specifically?
I’m on the board of Justice Centre Hong Kong, a non-profit human rights organisation working fearlessly to protect the rights of Hong Kong’s most vulnerable forced migrants: refugees, other people seeking protection, survivors of torture, human trafficking and forced labour. They do excellent work. If you’d like to make a donation or get involved in some way, click here.
If there was one thing you’d want your readers to take from your book, what would that be?
The refugee crisis is one of the defining challenges of our lifetimes: inaction simply is not an option. We can all do something to help.
How can we support your work and get our hands on a copy?
Thanks for asking! If you’d like to buy a copy of my book please contact me at [email protected]. Copies to your readers cost HK$300 each. Proceeds after publishing costs benefit another refugee charity that I support, Refugees International Japan.