Portraits of Dignity

Elliniko Refugee Camp - Greece 2016

     I am at the refugee camp of Ellinikon, of the Greek Capital, Athens, where 1500 Syrian and Afghan refugees are staying. Men, women, and children have found temporary refuge where they await a response from the European Union, hoping to be granted political asylum or permanent residence in any member country.
War, like a very deep wound, is etched in every face, in the gestures, the looks, the destiny of those who have suffered from war, as well as those who were born in its midst.
A few brushes, different colored paint and a piece of cloth lay on the floor.

Surrounded by six children with confused eyes. The volunteer instructor gestures towards the children to motivate them to explore with first brushstrokes. They start timidly at the edges of the cloth and soon extend broadly to cover all of the surface.
Spontaneous portraits emerge, with relaxed looks, faces and thoughts that, in that instant, leave behind the war and the scars. For that brief space in time, they have left off the cloth.

I’m able to print those first smiles in 4X6 format, and I arrive the next day to give them each a picture of themselves, one by one. Asal comes running, screaming with a frown and abruptly snatches her photo. She looks at it carefully, she doesn’t smile like the others, she doesn’t scream out loud like the others, only with a very subtle gesture she asks, “Who is she?”. After a brief silence, she disappears among the multitude with the photograph in her hand.

Two days later, a tall and large man approaches me. He is Badih, the father of Asal. With gestures, he invites me into his tent, filled with covers, clothes and some toys. In an improvised altar, the photograph of Asal. After sharing a tea, he asks me to photograph him with his children.

During the next three weeks, boys and girls, fathers and mothers, cousins, nieces and nephews, and grandparents pose in front of the camera with their best clothing, hijabs, hairstyles, and the clothing donated from the remote areas of the world, clothes made of cloths and colors foreign to their lives.

“Portraits of Dignity is a distinctly human project that captures photographic images revealing the essential humanity of refugees as they flee the horrors of war and adjust to new cultures. We recognize the signs of loss in their eyes, as well as signs of hope. We see how sweetness and sadness coexist in images that reflect the essence of being human regardless of origin or religion.

It is a project with intention. A project that forges collaborative relationships that transforms the realities in the act of mirroring, reflection, imagery, and imagination. It moves us to see human beings as a civilization with common challenges, seeking to evolve towards a society that cares for the wellbeing of all.”


Marc Hors is a documentary photographer and storyteller dedicated to capturing the social and cultural fabric of our contemporary society in all of its splendor, nuance and terrible beauty.

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