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Visual artist Hilde Honerud uses photography to get us to stand up and take a closer look at refugees, kin hopes of making their lives more recognisable for us.

All photos: Hilde Honerud


IMAGE: By photographing refugees in new situations, Hilde Honerud wants to create the possibility of understanding them better.

These are the athletes that caught her attention.

Kristine Lindebø , Translated by Jeff Engberg


Published on Friday 16 August 2019 at 11:25   Last updated on Friday 16 August 2019 at 11:26

Hilde Honerud sat several hours a day watching people exercise at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos until she felt ready to capture their movements in photographs.

– I was very impressed the more I observed them. We all know that physical exercise is important when life gets difficult, but that becomes much more difficult when you are forced to live in such conditions.

Overcrowded tents, the cold, garbage, flooding, trauma, self-harm, a lack of food, rape, illness. These tribulations are part of the daily lives of approximately 9000 refugees who live at Moria refugee camp, which was designed for about one-third of that number.

A life on hold

We see people practising yoga, kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai, parkour, fitness, bodybuilding, dance, swimming, jogging and other activities not far from the chaos.

Honerud was working on another photo project at the refugee camp when she took note of these activities. She contacted Yoga and Sport For Refugees as soon as she got home. Yoga and Sport for Refugees organizes physical activities and yoga for the refugees who live at the camp.

"Many people who live in extreme conditions such as these have a sense that their lives have become unreal. They speak of a life on hold, hoping to start a real life again once they are allowed to leave the camp. Many suffer from serious depression, but they feel the physical training keeps them going", Honerud said when describing the photo project which is being exhibited on 21 August at the Buskerud art center.

The stories told by the people living at the camp are hard to listen to. We need time to digest their stories before returning for more. I try to create some space for this by telling a story about another aspect of their lives.


Hilde Honerud

Honerud is a visual artist who works with photography as a form of expression. Her images are quite similar to photojournalism and documentary photography. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Art in Oslo, the National Academy of the Arts in Oslo and Napier University (Scotland). She now teaches photography and media science as an associate professor at the University of South-Eastern Norway.

She travelled to Lesbos with her partner, Jon Hovland Honerud, who holds a PhD in sociology from the same university. They collaborate on each other's projects in hopes that they differing viewpoints can bring added value to the subject they explore from two different professions.

Wanting to show something more

Honerud wanted to go beyond the images we usually see from Lesbos: overcrowded boats, life vests, tents and crying children. She sees the importance of the images and stories that arise from the refugee crisis, but she thinks the immense flood of images like these can paralyse us.

– We see so many terrible images that we are unable to absorb it all. For me, it was important to look at the daily lives of these people in hopes of recognising ourselves through shared experiences, she said.

– The stories told by the people living at the camp are hard to listen to. We need time to digest their stories before returning for more. I try to create some space for this by telling a story about another aspect of their lives.

Honerud hopes her images will bring us closer to the people we brand as refugees if we see them in situations that we recognise from our own lives; and maybe we will see something impressive. There are clues in her photographs that tell us where we are and give the stories a wider content. Honerud's images are a contrast to similar photographs we have already seen from Lesbos and Moria.

This is not the artist's first photo project that looks at the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. She says it is important to approach the people she hopes to photograph with some caution and respect.

Journalists who find themselves in my situation are a bit daring, but the result is often quite nice while at the same time being a bit cheeky.

Hilde Honerud

– It is quite inspiring just being there, watching what is going on. I use quite a long time getting to know the situation and people before I start taking pictures; they need to get used to the fact that I am nearby, sticking my nose into things. I also think a lot about how I will be telling my story.

Trust takes time

As opposed to the work of many photojournalists, Hilde has no time frame or deadline to meet, so she can take all the time she needs. Many photographers come to take pictures of the same training sessions as Honerud does, but they are in and out very fast.

– Journalists who find themselves in my situation are a bit daring, but the result is often quite nice while at the same time being a bit cheeky. Many journalists objectify these people because they have limited time to be there. I understand the reasons why they have to work that way, but I am happy that I can take my time.

Honerud was at the Moria refugee camp for a month and a half. In an environment with so many cultural differences where many of the residents have lived through traumatic experiences, she thinks time is a very important factor in completing her project. It takes time to build trust.

Time and trust led to a level of intimacy that not only led to some great photographs; it also brought about cooperation between her and the refugees. She took pictures and they took pictures, and they had lots good ideas and wishes.

– We tired each other out a little! The collaboration led to some pretty good images for them and me, Honerud said.

Form through image and space

She is not a fan of so-called fly-on-the-wall photography; she thinks her work is more about communication and dynamics, and that photography can also be a way of getting to know one another. Some of her photos are classic images that arose spontaneously, while others took a lot of time to stage.

Honerud does not only work on ideas and history; she thinks a lot about visual form when she takes photographs. She thinks about the content and form of the visual image. The images are often quite formal and stylised, but the room in which the images are exhibited, how the images and space work together and deciding which images should be printed large and small and which images should be hung beside others are also important aspects of presenting her work.

Honerud's first photo project from Lesbos It is a light which objectifies everything and confirms nothing (part one) involved photographing the places and things she saw in the camp – completely void of human beings. By only showing the rooms, Honerud wanted us to identify with the spaces as if we were living there, creating proximity in a very different manner.

For this project of the same name (yet as part two) she made a conscious decision to anonymise the people in images. This was partly for practical reasons – so they would not get into any trouble after the images were published – and partly as an artistic device.

– I thought the image worked best without more stories about the individuals. It also has to do with making people feel it could have been them in the picture.

Hilde Honerud photo art photography photo refugee crisis documentary photography University of South-Eastern Norway Lesbos