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'This Is Not A Passport Photo' Project Creates New Memories For Syrian Refugees

02/15/2017 04:16 EST | Updated 02/17/2017 09:23 EST

Stephanie Simpson knows the power of a photograph.

The Edmonton photographer spends most of her time taking pictures, so she sees first-hand how touching they can be. And how devastating it is when they’re lost.

Simpson’s new project, This Is Not a Passport Photo, provides family photo sessions to newly arrived Syrian refugees in Edmonton. The idea struck when she saw a news story about a family fleeing Syria. They had to choose a handful of items to bring along — and one of those items was a family photograph.

“As a photographer, it just seemed like the logical place for me to try to chip in,” she told The Huffington Post Canada in an interview. Simpson also won a grant from StoryHive to create a short documentary about the photos and the families in them.

this is not a passport photo

Basel Abou Hamrah, a 28-year-old Syrian living in Edmonton, is shown with his mother, Laila Maaen. (Photo: Stephanie Simpson)

“It’s something that we all seem to inherently value, to have photographs of the people we care about,” Simpson explained. “It helps remind us who we are and how far we’ve come.”

One of the men Simpson photographed, 28-year-old Basel Abou Hamrah, said he’ll show the photos to his kids one day as a memory of his first year in Canada.

“I was so excited when I got the pictures,” he told The Huffington Post Canada in an interview. Simpson’s portraits are the only physical photos he and his mother have of them together.

stephanie simpson

Photographer Stephanie Simpson won a grant to create her short film, This Is Not a Passport Photo, which follows her portrait sessions with newly arrived refugees from Syria. (Photo: Stephanie Simpson)

Hamrah’s family had lots of pictures in Syria before their home was hit by a bomb. They lost everything and fled to Lebanon with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

Simpson’s photos are “a new album of our life,” he said. And he hopes the film can help Canadians understand his people and culture.

“It can let them see how we are a normal family … We are not different.”
— Basel Abou Hamrah

“It’s a good thing to introduce the Canadian people ... to a refugee family,” Hamrah said. “It can let them see how we are a normal family … We are not different.”

It’s easy for there to be misunderstandings between groups of people who have never met, Hamrah said.

“It’s a good thing to know about anyone, right? For me, when I came here, I didn’t know many things about First Nations people.”

basel abou hamrah

Edmonton photographer Stephanie Simpson is offering family portraits to refugees for her project, This Is Not a Passport Photo. Shown here is Basel Abou Hamrah. (Photo: Stephanie Simpson)

Now, Hamrah said he’s making an effort to meet indigenous people and learn about their culture.

“When you don’t know people face-to-face, you have already ideas and judgements about them. It’s a good thing to go and see and explore the culture and how they think … to know them more.”

Reading about people in a history textbook or in newspapers “is not the same” as meeting them in person, he said.

“Go to the culture and speak to them so they can talk about what they are.”

Watch Simpson’s short documentary, This Is Not a Passport Photo, above.

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