Espen Rasmussen, an Oslo-based photographer, has spent seven years documenting displaced people around the world for his Transit project, a multimedia work that includes photography, video, a website, and an exhibition at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. The videos blend Rasmussen's photographs and interviews, edited together by Anna Stevens at Panos Pictures, to tell the personal stories of people coping in the wake of devastating events. In this segment, he interviews women in a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 1.9 million people have been displaced. The photographer reflects on the ongoing project in an interview below.
Another video from the Transit series about families in Georgia can be watched here.
The Atlantic: How did the Transit project begin? Seven years later, do you find that it has evolved over the years?
Espen Rasmussen: It began as a single story. I travelled to Chad and the border of Sudan to make a reportage about the tens of thousands of refugees crossing the border from the Darfur province and into refugee camps in Chad. I spent approximately ten days there, together with Médecines Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) as they were the only organization present in the area. Not long after, I travelled to Serbia and met internally displaced people who had been without homes since the bombing of Kosovo in 1999, I started to see this as a larger project. I noticed that the mass media often only focused on the wars themselves, and on the stories with a lot of action, and forgot to cover the people left behind after a war had raged, or long, ongoing conflicts that might not be considered interesting enough. It is the same today, in Libya or Egypt; hundreds of photographers go when there is fighting, but when the action has finished and the images are not so in your face, most photojournalists leave the area, even though there are a lot of important stories still to tell.
Yes, my project has evolved -- both the way I look at a story but most of all my photographic style. In the beginning, seven years ago, I had a more straightforward style; the last few years it has changed to be a style and a way of telling through images that leave more questions. I am not trying to answer everything in my pictures.
How do you find the stories you tell?
I find stories when reading, mostly reading blogs, news from NGOs and so on. There are not a lot of stories of displaced people and refugees in the mainstream media, so information normally is easier to get by talking to people at organizations such as UNHCR, MSF, the Norwegian Refugee Council and so on. When I am in the field making a story, I find stories within the story by talking to people on the ground, locals who are affected by a war or by violence. I spend a lot of time just talking to people, interviewing them and staying together with them. These people tell me stories that lead to a new story or a new idea.
How do you find a balance between shooting stills and videos when you're documenting a story? Are you using a DSLR with video for both?
It is actually very hard to find that balance, but I do shoot stills most of the time. I use video for interviews and I use video when I see that I have the time to do it. I think it is very important to make a choice when you are there in the field: right now I am gonna shoot video, or the opposite, I will shoot stills. If you try to do both, both things will be bad. I don't see my self as an excellent videographer, but I think still photographers see things that will turn out well in a video. In the beginning, I used a video camcorder, a small one with tapes, and then I used a Canon EOS 5 DSLR with video.
What's next for you? Is Transit an ongoing project?
Transit is still an ongoing project, even though I released a book with the same name through Dewi Lewis Publishing. I also made a major website, which will be updated when I travel out again on new stories about refugees and displaced people. So yes, it is ongoing, but it will be less intensive than it used to be, because I also focus on new projects now.