An Interview With: Sanah Khan

Who are you and what did you study?

My name is Sanah Khan and I studied BA (Hons) Photographic Arts at University of Westminster.

What is your artist statement for the body of work “Unsettled“?

Continuous images and video footages of war torn countries and desolate conditions of refugee camps has led to somewhat of a desensitisation of the refugee crisis. The demolition that took place in the South side of the camp saw 3000 people who had been made homeless by war only to become homeless again, a concept that leaves many refugees in a constant state of upheaval. By visiting the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp before and after the demolition, my aim was to show the humanity of the people who have had it taken away from them and I found this through their ability to form a community similar to the one they left behind with the help of amazing volunteers.

Where did the decision to pursue this idea come from?

I had previously shot a project about child labour in clothing factories and had seen the impact it had on those who didn't have much knowledge about the subject. I found that I had learnt a lot that wasn't necessarily documented, from there I completed projects that helped me learn more about myself and the world around me. The refugee crisis has been in the media for a long time and I began to see how it had become 'background news', I wanted to introduce the refugees as people who had lived lives just like we do, despite the troubles they are facing they are helping each other as a community.

I imagine there was a lot of explore/traveling involved in this project, how did you prepare for shooting the project but technically and conceptually?

I had to take two trips to Calais as the idea was something that came to me very late into our final project and I didn't give myself enough time to plan what I would shoot right down to the last detail. The first time I visited the camp I didn't take a camera with me and took a few images on my phone, I used it as an opportunity to talk to the refugees and saw the sense of community they had built. I found out that they were demolishing a part of the camp and my idea took a more journalistic route, but still tried to capture how the refugees came together through these changes. During my second visit I kept it very simple using one wide angle and one zoom lens, a smaller kit helped me keep focused on what I came to photograph.

Why did you choose not to use direct portraiture with this project?

My ideas changed from use of still life to show objects that represented the refugees to a journalistic take of the camp. However, I felt that the sense of community they had built could only be captured through images of the camp. Such as the unexpected washing line hung outside and the cafes in contrast to the container camps that had been built. Another reason was respecting the fact that they are going through a very hard time and not infringing on their privacy especially as many people were careful to avoid having their face shown in images.

Was there any photographers that influenced this project/style?

'Where The Children Sleep' by Magnus Wennman was a big influence for me. Although my work is very different to what he captured in these images, I took inspiration from how he chose to focus on their humanity and not numbers in a refugee camp. I also came across images taken by girls in the Zaatari camp and they captured moments we would never see such as a girl skipping and children using debris to make toys. It became something that I also wanted to show.

What do you hope the viewer gains from this series?

The whole aim of this series was to bring attention to the refugee crisis from a view that hadn't been explored before. I hope that viewers understand the importance of researching and finding information that hasn't been fed entirely by Western news. 

What are your plans for the future?

I hope to to do a lot of travelling to learn about new cultures and continue to do similar photojournalistic style photography as a hobby that hopefully may turn into a career. Right now, finding an opportunity such as working for a creative magazine is my priority to be able to get my work recognised.

What is the best piece of advice you could give the viewers of The Pupil Sphere?

Go out and take those images! I often held back on ideas because they seemed unrealistic for what I thought I was capable of. Being told at university to just photograph something that is remotely inspiring, led to finding a meaning behind certain images that helped a lot of projects to grow. Question your own process and those around you, perspectives can change the way you see things that may not have caught your attention before. 

All images copyright of Sanah Khan.


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Daniel AinsworthComment