Photographer Damian Wampler at Brooklyn Museum

FINE ART DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHER Damian Wampler (Kyrgyzstan 1999-2001) recently had two prints from his series Darfur in Brooklyn acquired by the Brooklyn Museum. One of the prints, darfur-photo1Untitled 1 (Kitchen), will be on display in the American Identities galleries on the 5th floor from August-December 2010.

Darfur in Brooklyn is a documentary photography project that shadows a day in the life of a Sudanese taxi driver named Omar.

Damian met Omar at a protest in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, DC. He soon learned that Omar lived in the neighborhood adjacent to his in Brooklyn that had a large Sudanese population. Damian began shooting portraits of many of the 300 Darfuri refugees that live in Kensington, a Brooklyn neighborhood just south of Prospect Park, but soon realized that Omar’s face reflected the struggle of the Darfuris as a whole.

“The Darfuris accepted me and opened their houses to me. I became friends with many of them, but Omar was the most receptive to being photographed. His home, his hands and his eyes tell me everything that I want to convey about their life and struggle,” says Damian.

Omar came to the United States more than four years ago, leaving behind his entire extended family in order to escape the genocide. Black Africans are being killed strictly because of their race. The genocide continues in Darfur, and photographer Damian Wampler has worked to spread the news about the senseless killing so that perhaps people will take notice, and governments will take action.

“The best documentary photographers give voice to the voiceless. As the tragedy in Darfur drags on, it becomes less popular and seemingly less urgent,” Damian says, hoping to bring Darfur back into the spotlight with stunning, provocative images.

Damian’s approach to documentary photography uses the language of fine art instead of photojournalism. Omar has been thrust into a very alien world, far from his family and friends. In Darfur he earned a university degree in Arabic. Now he drives a taxi. Before coming to America, he didn’t have a driver’s license and had never seen snow.

The process was collaborative, and a friendship between the photographer and the subject developed. Damian took pictures of the Darfur refugee community in Brooklyn over the course of four months in the winter and spring of 2009.

“Omar introduced a new world to me, and it shows in the photographs,” says Damian.

Prior to being acquired by the Brooklyn Museum, five prints from Darfur in Brooklyn were included in the group show Surface Tension at the School of Visual Arts Gallery in New York in October 2009.

“What impressed me the most about this group of photographers is how fearless each one of them is in capturing their subjects,” Surface Tension curator Dan Halm says, “from technical know-how to emotional impact, they all move beyond what one comes to expect within the realm of digital photography.”

The Brooklyn Museum acquired two prints in June 2009, and Damian donated two other prints to the New York Historical Society.

“The prints are a part of New York’s history, and I want the images to stay there. America has a legacy of sheltering outcasts and refugees that continues to this day. Omar and his children will have a different life in America, and I’m grateful to be one of the people that they embraced here.”

The Brooklyn Museum is located at 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York.

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