Europe’s refugee crisis

Pulitzer-winning photojournalist Sergey Ponomarev looks to bring plight of refugees closer to home with Hong Kong exhibition

Russian opens first Asia exhibition in Happy Valley with 60 photos documenting struggle of those caught up in Europe’s migrant crisis

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 October, 2016, 8:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 October, 2016, 11:30pm

Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist Sergey Ponomarev, who scooped the honour for his images documenting the struggles of refugees heading for Europe, has opened his first exhibition in Asia, in Happy Valley.

The Russian photographer, who spent five months last year eating, sleeping and travelling with migrants fleeing war-torn areas, said he hoped their plight would resonate with Hongkongers more than 8,000km away.

“Hong Kong is quite fancy, it reminds me of New York City in a way, and shares similarities with my home, Moscow,” the 35-year-old freelancer said after arriving from New York, where he received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography in a ceremony earlier this month.

Ponomarev travelled to Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia and Austria last year covering the influx of more than one million migrants and refugees mainly fleeing conflict areas in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pulitzer prize, which Ponomarev called the highest form of recognition in journalism, was awarded to him and three others “for photographs that captured the resolve of refugees, the perils of their journeys and the struggle of host countries to take them in”.

One of his best-known photos, published in The New York Times, captured migrants on a Turkish boat arriving on the shore of the island of Lesbos in Greece. Some 150 migrants were jumping off the boat when the smuggler in charge tried to flee after spotting a police officer, according to Ponomarev.

“It was a very dangerous and dramatic situation,” he said.

Most people in Hong Kong will feel distant from such scenarios, he added, but he hoped exhibiting the 60 photos would raise awareness and remind residents “not to stay away from other people’s lives”.

“People from wealthier districts are those who would most likely be provoked by seeing these photos because it is not something they are familiar with. They are the ones who would donate to charity funds and NGOs. It is important that my photos reach these audiences,” he said of the decision to hold the event in Happy Valley.

But there are also people he hopes his work does not reach – his two young children in Moscow.

“I am still not talking a lot about what’s going on with them ... I don’t want to bring all that cruelty and inequality of our world to theirs,” he said.

The exhibition, entitled REFUSEE, is part of the Hong Kong International Photo Festival, and runs at the F11 Photographic Museum until November 18. It is free to enter.