Veins curl in a gnarled arm like the bark on an old tree trunk. A refugee girlâs bright, alert eyes areÂ windows to a homeland she has never seen. A transgender person posing for a formal portrait looksÂ confidently straight into the lens. A victim of an acid attack, her face horrifyingly disfigured, is aÂ testament to the depth of greed and injustice in our world.
Photographer Jan MĂžller Hansen denies that he goes out deliberately seeking these images of theÂ downtrodden and disenfranchised. He says photography is all about telling a story, and the storiesÂ of those living in the margins of society represent real drama. And Hansen, a diplomat-photographer tells those stories of the excluded and voiceless through stark black-and-whiteÂ images.
âYou can get closer to the person with black and white, the images are more powerful becauseÂ there is no colour to distract you,â Hansen explains, âyou can concentrate on the texture, features,Â tone and dynamic range of the image.â
He is self-taught, and what started out as a hobby has now become a powerful way to documentÂ and show the reality of the dark underbelly of our societies. When posted in Bangladesh, HansenÂ ventured into the teeming slums by the railroad tracks, the shelters for victims of acid attacks, theÂ metal-strewn beaches where supertankers are beached to be dismantled for scrap.
âThe life of a diplomat can get a bit boring with expats and clubs, and photography was a badÂ excuse for me to meet people I would otherwise never get to meet, connecting with them andÂ telling their stories,â Hansen says.
When Hansen was posted to Nepal, he was happy to be back in a country that he knew well from aÂ previous stint 20 years ago as a volunteer. But this time, he was returning with his new hobby, andÂ whenever he has some free time from his work at the Danish Embassy, Hansen is off with hisÂ camera bag, taking pictures along the recycling shops along the Bagmati, refugee settlements,Â abandoned cement factories, or brick kilns.
One of his most striking and pictures is a long shot taken at Pashupati of a mother grieving at theÂ funeral of her dead baby. The picture wonÂ 1x.com‘s 2013 Photo Award on DocumentaryÂ (People’s Choice) and is the kind of photo that Hansen says “hits you in the gut”.
Through black and white pictures, Hansen puts the physical frailty of human beings in vulnerableÂ situations in sharp contrast to the uncaring, unfeeling, unjust world around them. But even amidstÂ all this squalour and suffering, you see the triumph of the human will, the spirit of survival.
Hansen just contributed to a âRefugee Storiesâ exhibition of black-and-white portraits of urbanÂ refugees in Kathmandu from Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan and even Somalia. What comes acrossÂ from those portraits are not despair and hopelessness, but stories of families focused on finding aÂ future.
âPeople ask me why I am always negative,â Hansen says, âI am not. The people in my pictures mayÂ be poor but they have a lot of dignity. And they all have stories of survival.â