Imagine not being able to feel secure in your own country, not having food security nor job security, not being able to access medical care, causing you to flee the country you once called home. This is what is currently happening to millions of Venezuelans, with 16% of the population fleeing and 90% being under the poverty line. Venezuela is experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in history. In April 2013 Nicolás Maduro was elected president following the death of Chávez. But under President Maduro, Venezuela has spiralled into disarray, with the economy collapsing, shortages of basic supplies becoming widespread, and poverty rates reaching record numbers. Since his inauguration, Maduro’s regime has imprisoned thousands of Venezuelans simply for opposing him, plunging the country into a state of fear and despair.
“Two members of the militia, a "defence group" created by late President Hugo Chávez, during the commemoration of the third year anniversary of his death, in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 5th, 2017.” - Photographed by Fabiola Ferrero
To gain an insight into Venezuela’s situation, we interviewed a photographer called Fabiola Ferrero (a native Venezuelan) who has been documenting her country’s situation for the past 7 years. Her work has been featured in numerous news outlets such as the New York Times, Le Monde, and the wall Street Journal, as well as winning multiple awards such as the Magnum Foundation Photography and the World Press Photo Talent Program in South America.
Fabiola’s Beginning with Photography
Growing up in Venezuela, Fabiola felt a strong connection to her home country which lead her to use different mediums to raise awareness of Venezuela’s situation. “I grew up with a very politically unstable country and it forced me to look at that reality. Photography and journalism were a way for me to use both my own skills and need for expression, with a bigger purpose to serve my society.”
Focused on portraying a story, Fabiola has explored how mediums complement each other within her work explaining that the most “important thing is to find the best way to tell a story and that can be just photography but sometimes it is a mix of things, like writing and video.”
Emotions through Photography
During a crisis such as in Venezuela, facts and figures are often the main source of information used by the media to portray its effects. However, the emotional state of the people depicts the crisis from the perspective of the people living through it, conveying the effects on a far more personal level. This is where photography is able to help raise awareness in a unique way and this is something that Fabiola has taken to heart in her work.
“In my work, portraying a mental state is quite difficult because it is obviously not an action, it’s not something that you can easily photograph. Instead, what I try to do is to work with metaphors. My black and white project, ‘blurred in despair’, uses diptychs which have helped me try and portray that mental state. Sometimes I try to look at something that is not an action or something that is not too obvious. Instead, I try to create an atmosphere rather than giving information straight away.”
"Scenes of opposition demonstrations in Caracas in April 2017." - Photographed by Fabiola Ferrero
“Friends of a 17 year old cry on his grave after he was shot dead by a policeman a few days before his birthday. He allegedly murdered an officer and the police came back for him for revenge. May 2016 in Caracas, Venezuela.” - Photographed by Fabiola Ferrero
The crisis in Venezuela has had a drastic emotional effect on the people, with the World Federation for Mental Health declaring a mental health crisis in Venezuela. It is common to see people working at four or five different jobs just to afford food for their families. This is just one example of what people are doing to live, and with the ever-increasing inflation and poverty levels, it eventually takes a mental toll on people.
“There is an interesting study conducted by a Venezuelan physiologist who has created an emotional map of Venezuela. When the crisis started to get really bad in 2017, she did this study and realised that the 3 main emotions the Venezuelan people identify with were sadness, anger, and fear. So essentially that is what you feel every day, one of those 3 emotions. Of course, this is going to create a sort of debilitating trauma inside of you. That is what is happening. I think it happens to any society that is under conflict and Venezuela is no exception.”
"An opposition protester throws back a tear gas bomb during clashes against security forces in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 2017." - Photographed by Fabiola Ferrero
“A young protester waits for the water canon to come to him during an opposition demonstration that ended up in a 4 hour confrontation with the security forces in Caracas, April 6, 2017” - Photographed by Fabiola Ferrero
Venezuela’s refugee crisis
Due to the harsh conditions in Venezuela, people are fleeing at a staggering rate, with over 5 million Venezuelans having left their country to date, making this among one of the world's largest displacement crises. Even though Venezuelan refugees are trying to seek safety and security, many countries have closed borders and introduced visas (such as Brazil), making it much harder for Venezuelan refugees to settle in new societies.
“This is one particular aspect of the crisis that involves everyone, it doesn’t matter who you are, you are probably affected by the migration wave. This is a point where we all intersect. We all know the pain of migration and losing your home, and of course there are different extents that it can affect you. I can be affected emotionally because my family has left their country and will probably not come back but then there are also some people struggling to eat. Everyone is struggling in their own way but ultimately everyone is affected.”
“La Torre, an informal community built over an old airport runway in Maicao, Colombia.” - Photographed by Fabiola Ferrero
Fabiola is eager to continue shedding light on the Venezuelan refugee crisis and is working on projects such as ‘I can't here the birds’ which documents the lives of Venezuelan migrants. “In this case I am mixing diary notes of people who left the country with archival images of their family albums with metaphorical images of how Venezuela looks like nowadays with the state of decay and the abandonment that you see when you walk out the door.”
Telling a story through photography
Fabiola has explored how the Venezuelan community has reacted to violence by collecting anecdotes through her camera. The unique power of photography as a medium enables her to convey a person’s story in a way that everyone can understand and empathise with, which is incredibly important during a time of crisis as it reaches wider audiences. We asked Fabiola to share a powerful story that stuck with her when photographing:
“In one photograph there was a woman police officer, whose hand was on the police shield, trying to protect herself from a protestor that was kicking her repeatedly even though she wasn’t doing anything. I absolutely don’t want to get into defending anyone because the police have done some terrible things but that specific photograph of this woman looking so scared with her hand on the police shield stuck with me. Even after the man left, the hand stayed there due to her being terrified. That moment indicated to me how we are all willing to attack each other because we are so frustrated that we don’t even care about what is happening around us.”
“A female security officer holds her shield after a man kicked her repeatedly on an opposition demonstration in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 2nd, 2017.” - Photographed by Fabiola Ferrero
The emotions that the Venezuelan people are feeling - frustration, anger, sadness among many others – are indicative of the toll the crisis is having on the people. By understanding people’s emotions, it enables you gain more awareness of what people are living through. Although the media tends to only focus on facts and numbers when reporting a crisis, it is imperative to apprehend the emotional state of those living through a humanitarian crisis, as we cannot remove the ‘human’ state from humanitarian. Fabiola is a great example of how you can help raise awareness of what people are experiencing through the lens of photography.