Alissa Everett is a documentary photographer like no other; rather than just taking pictures, she inspires change. Alissa has travelled to more than 130 countries on six continents and covered humanitarian issues in Iraq, Darfur, Gaza, South Sudan, Afghanistan, DR Congo and beyond. She was the only photographer allowed to take pictures at the capture of Saddam Hussein’s infamous sons on the outskirts of Mosul and was in Baghdad documenting the local reaction when Hussein himself was found.
Her approach to photographing these locations is entirely unique in that she rejects the sensationalist aspect of war photojournalism. The images she creates directly contrast the politicised narratives of devastation and destruction that dominate media reportage. Instead, she looks to the humanity of the people living in these situations, picturing them as she finds them with agency and individuality. As a woman travelling alone, she is regularly welcomed into communities and given unfettered access.
much as my work doesn’t really fit in to defined categories of photography, I too have never really fit in. I am a woman working in a male-dominated field, in areas that typically only men travel to.”
Her process is personal and involves a real effort to integrate organically with the communities she photographs,
Perhaps because I don’t arrive with an entourage, or in a specially marked car, I mostly feel very safe. Very often I am looked after by the local community. My work takes time, longer than more organisations like to pay me for, but I have to do this to get a proper understanding of the situation, and build connections with community leaders.
Her portraits are beautifully composed and deeply revealing, offering an unrestricted view of the kindness, compassion and love that persists in locations at the heart of global-crisis. In 2007, she founded Exposing Hope, a non-profit which seeks to raise awareness and funds for victims of human rights abuses worldwide through documentary photography. Her work enhances our understanding of places usually defined by their conflict, creating space to consider the lived realities of the people within.
Recently she has been working in Ukraine and on the borders of Romania, Moldova and Poland, with The International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The project centres on portraits of refugees and those whose lives have been impacted by the conflict, alongside documenting the humanitarian efforts in the area. Her pictures are deeply emotive though not pitiful, they ultimately illuminate the resilience Ukrainian people are exemplifying at this terrible time.
She comments on the experience:
As I flew from Nairobi, I couldn’t help think about leaving Africa to go to Europe to cover a refugee crisis. I have documented forced migration on every continent, but of course this one is very different. In some ways, the situation is more difficult to cover, distances are long, temperatures are cold, and the war has some very specific characteristics: cruise missiles fired from thousands of kilometres away create a different from feeling sporadic guerrilla fighting or a sustained ground campaign.
In many ways, the Ukrainian refugees were similar to other refugee populations, mostly women and children exhausted, having lived through terrifying situations, relieved to have reached safety, uncertain of what is to come. However, the Ukrainians are being met by volunteers offering hot meals, medical supplies, clothing, free transport and accommodation. The humanitarian response to Ukraine by individuals is something I hope we learn from in terms of dealing with future crises.
She leaves us with this message about what she hopes her work can convey,
A wise man asked me early in my career, “what do you want to say about the world, and how are you going to say it?” Though I am not immune to the violence and trauma facing many of the places in which I travel, my hope, my inspiration came from the moments of unexpected beauty I found despite the conditions. With each stereotype broken, I found more compassion and I decided that was what I wanted to say about the world. That we have more in common as humans than in difference, and if we as a global community focused more on that, perhaps the world would be a more peaceful place.
Alissa Everett’s solo exhibition COVERING BEAUTY is currently on display as part of Personal Structures at the European Cultural Centre, taking place during the 59th Venice Biennale. (Until 27th November 2022)