The line of people seemed unending, we were told an estimate of 1,500 yet the trail of refugees walking through the opening in a razor wire border fence seemed to snake for miles. Zákány, Hungary is a small village that borders Croatia. Tonight, these refugees walked through a muddy field onto a train headed to Austria. Their lives will forever be changed.
This story is not about them. This story is about me, my life is changed too.
Naively I assumed a trip to the border armed with only a camera rather than humanitarian aid was going to be the “easiest” trip that we have taken. However with no blankets, no water, no food, nothing to offer I felt nearly helpless as we merely observed one small part of this historic moment. Photographing in nearly pitch black without control of light is perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve done, and I caught myself being frustrated that I couldn’t get the camera to do the things I wanted it to do. It wouldn’t focus quick enough, there wasn’t enough light to capture the photo I was envisioning, the darkness caused the pictures to be grainy or blurry and I felt like I was going to have nothing of worth to come home with. It was almost for a moment, that I forgot what I was doing and why.
Then, shoulder to shoulder with other photographers (perhaps feeling a bit insecure and out of place), I took a photo, and this photo came to life. Because as I lifted my eye from the viewfinder, I didn’t see a photograph, I saw a young girl. I’m not sure what it was, but just one glance of her eye and I was connected with this child. We traded smiles and I squatted down to be eye level. She saw beyond the camera and I saw beyond the lens. In a constantly moving line, we had all of 10 seconds to communicate and she was the one I shared the most with. As her family began to step away, I waved to her. She waved back and my heart broke; and yet there was joy. This girl has a family, and as a family they are going. I can only imagine the life they were living but now they have a new opportunity.
Unlike the news which only can show at best 2 minutes, I watched for 2 hours as a 40 car train filled to the brim departed the field after loading, as volunteers tossed bags of food into the train car windows. The first bit of the car ride home was the same as all the others. Quiet, it’s always quiet. Processing what we have just seen and applying it to our lives before it’s analyzed. It’s not something that’s purposeful, at this point its simply predictable.
It wasn’t until I came home and began looking at photos that it struck me that human interest stories are called that very deliberately: human interest stories have humans as the focal point. Call me shallow for never even considering that, (especially as a media missionary) but I see that my mindset needed to change. Over the past 15 years have taken a lot of photos for people, portraits, weddings, events, you name it. But only on a rare occasions have I looked at photography as away to so communicate deeply. I have a feeling a lot of my photographs will change now. To make an impact, we have to enter into the story. There’s no standing back. Nothing fancy. No frills. No fear. With respect, getting close. It’s not a game, nor a job, it’s an honor to be done with excellence.