Photo sto­ries

Pa­trick Brown tells Nigel Ather­ton the story be­hind his World Press Photo award­win­ning im­age and shares some of his pow­er­ful work on the wider Ro­hingya cri­sis

Amateur Photographer - - 7days - Pa­trick Brown

Pa­trick Brown talks about his pow­er­ful im­ages of the cri­sis in ro­hingya

Fol­low­ing vi­o­lent at­tacks on Myan­mar’s mostly Mus­lim Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity by the Burmese mil­i­tary, refugees have been pour­ing into neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh from Myan­mar’s Rakhine prov­ince in their hun­dreds of thou­sands since last Au­gust. Based in Bangkok, Sh­effield­born pho­to­jour­nal­ist Pa­trick Brown was on the scene very quickly.

‘I have worked in a lot of try­ing and dif­fi­cult ar­eas but I was sim­ply un­pre­pared for what I was about to see,’ re­calls the multi-award-win­ning pho­tog­ra­pher who is cur­rently work­ing for UNICEF. ‘Lit­er­ally thou­sands of peo­ple pour­ing over the bor­der from Burma to Bangladesh, and those thou­sands turned into tens of thou­sands, and now we have nine hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple.’

Pa­trick has been pho­tograph­ing the refugee cri­sis for many months but the scale of the suf­fer­ing was brought home to the West re­cently when a shock­ing im­age by Pa­trick was nom­i­nated for World Press Photo Pic­ture of the Year (see right). ‘I heard re­ports of a boat which had just cap­sized in a storm with refugees on board so we jumped in the car and went down there,’ re­calls Pa­trick. ‘The Burmese bor­der was sealed off and the mil­i­tary was plant­ing land­mines to stop peo­ple from cross­ing. They were shoot­ing, beat­ing and rob­bing peo­ple, so a group of Ro­hingya had de­cided to try to cir­cum­vent the au­thor­i­ties by sailing right out into the bay. They were nav­i­gat­ing around a seg­ment of land called Cox’s Bazar to avoid the Bangladeshi coast­guard and Burmese mil­i­tary. So they were go­ing right into the Bay of Ben­gal, dur­ing mon­soon sea­son. It was a re­ally hor­ren­dous storm that night. The fury of it was like noth­ing I’d ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore.’

The boat ap­par­ently broke up within 200 me­tres of the coast, with over 100 peo­ple on board, many of them women and chil­dren. Soon the bod­ies started be­ing washed up on the shore. The lo­cal fish­er­men used torches and col­lected all the bod­ies they could find. When Pa­trick ar­rived he was con­fronted by a dra­matic scene.

‘It was dark; there was a heavy thun­der­storm; the only part of me that wasn’t com­pletely soaked was un­der my chin. The bod­ies were all laid out on the ground – women, chil­dren... peo­ple were weary. When I took that im­age, it felt like I had been there for a life­time, whereas in re­al­ity it was only half an hour. I didn’t take many pic­tures that night. It was very sad. It re­ally moved me. But you try to emo­tion­ally dis­tance your­self from what you’re pho­tograph­ing, and make the clear­est nar­ra­tive you can to tell what’s hap­pen­ing. The cam­era is a veil – a fil­ter that you’re putting be­tween you and your sub­jects. You are con­cen­trat­ing on the el­e­ments and how to bal­ance them in the frame, to tell the story. It’s not un­til later, when you’re edit­ing and choos­ing the im­ages, that’s when it gets more emo­tion­ally chal­leng­ing. That’s when you be­gin to digest what you’ve seen. When I first took those pic­tures I thought they were too harsh. But my ed­i­tor in New York said we needed to tell the world what eth­nic cleans­ing looks like.’

A sur­vivor of the mas­sacre at Tula Toli vil­lage (also known as Min Gyi) in Myan­mar. Ra­juma Begum, 20, wit­nessed her par­ents, two sis­ters and brother killed by the Myan­mar Mil­i­tary. She saw her three-month old baby killed, then thrown onto a fire by the...

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