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Focus on refugees in cities


Subjectivity fascinates Michel Kirch. ©MICHEL KIRCH/ESTHER WOEDERHOFF GALLERY PARIS

TWO award-winning photographers feature in the McDermott Gallery Old Market Exhibition opening tonight as part of the sixth annual Angkor Photo Festival.

Former Afghan refugee Zalmai introduces his gritty Invisible in the City series which highlights the plight of urban refugees in Colombia, South Africa and Malaysia.

At the other end of the spectrum, the exhibition also features German-born Paris-based Michel Kirch’s Baltic Memories, described by the gallery as “ a serene body of work of absolute grace and beauty capturing perfect moments in northernmost Europe, where Kirch found himself astonished with his realisation that ‘white held the answer’.”

Both photographers are heavy hitters in the trade and senior snappers. Zalmai, 46, left Kabul shortly after the 1980 Soviet invasion, travelled to Lausanne, Switzerland, and became a Swiss citizen.

He won the coveted Visa d’Or from the Visa Pour l’Image International Photojournalism Festival at Perpignan this year. His work has appeared in numerous international publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Time, Le Temps and Newsweek. He was commissioned by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to highlight the plight of refugees, and the work on show in Siem Reap is the result of that commission.

He said that while most people think of refugees as people living in tents in border towns, he concentrated on the plight of refugees living in big cities.

He said the photos were hard to take because such refugees have few rights and little status and are wary of having their photos taken.

He had to work hard to win their trust and he said he chose to work in black and white because these people are “living in the dark, not in the night lights of the big cities”.

Michel Kirch started his career as a doctor but alternated his medical practice with travel, taking lengthy sojourns – such as a year in the Sahara, four months with the Bedouins in Sinai, a summer on a trawler in Santander and three years in Lower Galilee.

He developed his photography while travelling, and has many international exhibitions to his credit, five books published and representation in seven galleries.

Kirch is fascinated with subjectivity and his own sensitivity, focusing on outer reality and his interior, personal planet. He said: “The inner landscape of my photos is a geography of the soul, woven into the fabric of reality. For reality is what makes photography so magical … and superior, in my mind, to any other visual art.”

The shows at McDermott Gallery will run simultaneously from November 23 to December 15 as part of the  Angkor Photo Festival.

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