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 theyâ€™re lost.
Simpsonâ€™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 â€” and one of those items was a family photograph.
â€śAs a photographer, it just seemed like the logical place for me to try to chip in,â€ť 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.
Basel Abou Hamrah, a 28-year-old Syrian living in Edmonton, is shown with his mother, Laila Maaen. (Photo: Stephanie Simpson)
â€śItâ€™s something that we all seem to inherently value, to have photographs of the people we care about,â€ť Simpson explained. â€śIt helps remind us who we are and how far weâ€™ve come.â€ť
One of the men Simpson photographed, 28-year-old Basel Abou Hamrah, said heâ€™ll show the photos to his kids one day as a memory of his first year in Canada.
â€śI was so excited when I got the pictures,â€ť he told The Huffington Post Canada in an interview. Simpsonâ€™s portraits are the only physical photos he and his mother have of them together.
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)
Hamrahâ€™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.
Simpsonâ€™s photos are â€śa new album of our life,â€ť he said. And he hopes the film can help Canadians understand his people and culture.
â€śIt can let them see how we are a normal family â€¦ We are not different.â€ť
â€” Basel Abou Hamrah
â€śItâ€™s a good thing to introduce the Canadian people ... to a refugee family,â€ť Hamrah said. â€śIt can let them see how we are a normal family â€¦ We are not different.â€ť
Itâ€™s easy for there to be misunderstandings between groups of people who have never met, Hamrah said.
â€śItâ€™s a good thing to know about anyone, right? For me, when I came here, I didnâ€™t know many things about First Nations people.â€ť
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 heâ€™s making an effort to meet indigenous people and learn about their culture.
â€śWhen you donâ€™t know people face-to-face, you have already ideas and judgements about them. Itâ€™s a good thing to go and see and explore the culture and how they think â€¦ to know them more.â€ť
Reading about people in a history textbook or in newspapers â€śis not the sameâ€ť as meeting them in person, he said.
â€śGo to the culture and speak to them so they can talk about what they are.â€ť
Watch Simpsonâ€™s short documentary, This Is Not a Passport Photo, above.