Since 1996, the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have claimed more lives — about 6 million — than any other human-caused calamity since World War II. The epicenter of the ongoing crises is the eastern city of Goma, an urban center that has become a humanitarian hotspot, rebel stronghold, and space of refuge and economic opportunity for a diverse population. The conflicts have displaced more than 2-million individuals, and the city of Goma has over the years acquired a set of Internally Displaced Peoples camps set around its furthest outskirts. In this context humanitarians and Congolese residents cross paths regularly, yet their interactions are often limited. Photography, however, opens up a powerful, communicative space that exists both within and beyond spaces of aid distribution. “Seeing Displacement Differently: Portraits in Disneyland – Stories from Mugunga III” addresses these communicative moments. This photo essay uses a visually dominant entanglement of image and text to challenge cliché representations of places of displacement. This work grew out of my exhibition (Portraits in Disneyland – Stories from Mugunga III ) which first hung at Emory University’s Center for Ethics in 2015. That exhibition featured images produced through my “co-creative portraits” methodology that were created during my ethnographic fieldwork concerning humanitarianism and the politics of photography in the eastern DRC from 2013-2014. Based in Mugunga III, this photo essay, like the exhibition and scholarship from which it is drawn, aims to argue that photographs can do more than simply “show.” Taken individually and as a collective, these photographs strive to pose questions about image production, while providing a visual critique that can help shape a more critical means of viewing humanitarian images and photographs of displacement.
Aubrey P. Graham is a freelance photographer and anthropologist. She is based at the Centre forHumanities Research at the University of the Western Cape as a Postdoctoral Fellow, funded through the National Research Foundation SARChI Chair in Visual History and Theory. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Anthropology from Emory University and a M.A. in the Social Anthropology of Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Aubrey’s research focuses on the politics of photography and humanitarianism in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her most recent photographic exhibition is ‘Portraits in Disneyland – Stories from Mugunga III’ which opened at The Centre for Ethics at Emory University in January 2015.