“If we only talk about Africa in terms of fear and misery, the danger is we’ll shut off. They don’t suffer any less because they’re African.”
Washington, D.C., 2014
Pulitzer Center grantee Robin Hammond has been honored internationally twice this week. His project Condemned, which documents mental health in African countries in crisis, placed second in the Contemporary Issues category of the 2014 World Press Photo award. He also received the 2014 POYi World Understanding Award for Condemned.
Last November he spoke to students in Paris about his work. "The primary reason I do human rights photography is that I don't want people to use ignorance as an alibi,” he said then.
In January 2014 in Washington, DC Hammond continued the education outreach around the Condemned project by discussing his photography with seventh-grade students at the SEED school, followed by conversations at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, Woodrow Wilson High School and finally with a crowd of about eighty people for an evening presentation at the Pulitzer Center offices.
“The idea [behind my work],” New Zealand native and Paris resident Hammond explained, “is to give people a voice who have had their voice deprived.” In the case of Condemned, this means the mentally ill and disabled in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, The Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.
Hammond said he was inspired to start the project while covering the 2011 referendum in Sudan. Photographers from all over the world had shown up to document the voting process, so freelancer Hammond decided he needed to find another angle to the story. Through the window of his car, he spotted an eight or nine-year old mentally ill child begging on the side of the road. He asked his driver how the mentally ill were cared for in Sudan.
“They put them in prison,” the driver told him.
“Stop the car,” Hammond said. “Let’s go to the prison.”
Hammond and students discussed what students believed were basic human rights and the vast collection of different ethnicities and cultures that make up Africa.
“South Africa is as different from Ethiopia as the U.S. is to Peru,” he said. “People [in Africa] have similar skin color, but that’s about it. It’s a very diverse place.”