Photographer Damian Wampler (Kyrgyz Republic 1999–01) graduated from Boston University and served as an English teacher in the Kyrgyz Republic. He then earned a Master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Russian, Eastern Europe and Central Asian Studies with a concentration in Human and Political Geography. He was a Fulbright researcher in the Kyrgyz Republic from 2005–2006. In 2006 he moved to New York City to recruit for the Peace Corps and earn a Master’s degree in digital photography from the School of Visual Arts. Recently some of Damian’s work was part of a group exhibition called Face Time, where he showcased intimate portraits of New York City’s homeless. He has been a volunteer photographer for the Red Cross of Greater New York and for Heartgallery in New York City. Damian has been accepted into the U.S Foreign Service and is currently preparing to go to Tajikistan.
Darfur in Brooklyn
Damian Wampler’s interest in Darfur was ignited by a film called The Devil Came on Horseback, a documentary released in 2007 that demonstrates how photography can to bring about social change. After that, he writes:
In 2008 I read a newspaper article about Darfur refugees living in Brooklyn and met with the president of the Darfur People’s Association of New York shortly after. He told me about a rally in D.C. that was going to take place in front of the Sudanese Embassy, and I met dozens of immigrants and refugees from the Darfur region of the Sudan.
It turned out that most of the Darfuris he met live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn near Prospect Park, and Damian began to document their lives through his photography. “Throughout the process I chose to focus on one man in particular because his story is representative of so many others of the 300 in the Darfuri community.”
In his home country Omar trained as an Arabic teacher, but discrimination and genocide in the Sudan made it impossible for him to find work. He won the green card lottery and moved to the United States, leaving his family behind for the possibility of a better life. He now works as a taxi driver, despite the fact that before coming to America, he did not know how to drive.
The images of Omar and his environment are not in the style of photojournalism. Instead, each image captures the emotion of the entire journey and can act as a stand-alone piece of art. “I create mood pieces that show how I interpreted this man’s feelings instead of using the language of traditional photojournalism, in which the photographer assumes much more responsibility for the content of the image. I leave each picture open to interpretation.” Damian continues, ” I use fine art photography to give viewers the sense of isolation and displacement that I felt over the months I spent photographing him.”
Damian is now publicizing the results of this photography project, which he has named “Darfur in Brooklyn.” With these portraits of a single refugee living in Brooklyn, Damian hopes to educate audiences about the crisis in the Sudan and the genocide there that has claimed more than 400,000 lives. This past Fall, the photos were shown at the School of Visual Arts Gallery in New York City.