Jason Tanner, Photographer


28 year old Colombian refugee Idalia in Ecuador. Photo by J.Tanner/2012

Photo by J.Tanner/2012

I’d spent the better part of two years procrastinating about how I would approach and photograph the subject of sexual violence in conflict. Sometime soon after, I found myself on the Ecuador-Colombia border working on a refugee related assignment; realising that all I thought I knew and understood about the subject, particularly in Latin American context was meaningless. Furthermore, I had misjudged the complexity of the relationship between refugees and the issue of sexual violence.

Over the course of four weeks I would be ferried, often at short notice and sometimes covertly, to meet with and photograph refugees fleeing persecution and violence from neighbouring Colombia.

This fearful frontier town in Ecuador is often the first stepping off point for refugees seeking safety and security. Unfortunately, for many refugees, the reach of those responsible for the violence often extends deep beyond the porous borders of Latin America.

It had taken more than two weeks to organise an interview with Maria (not her real name). There had been several other attempts, but always they were cancelled due to safety and protection concerns. I had questioned how dangerous it could possibly be for someone to allow me to interview and take his or her photograph.

Maria’s ‘home’, a timber structure partially submerged in toxic floodwater, rotting floors and infested with rats, represented only half the danger present to her, and her young family.

Working quickly, we were well aware this ‘all hearing – all seeing’ community could soon start whispering about visitors armed with cameras and notebooks visiting the home of this indigenous refugee and her daughters. Her tearful, anxious greeting a timely reminder of her vulnerability, and the risk she was taking allowing us this privilege.

Producing ‘anonymous’ portraits, to protect identity is one of the most challenging skills asked of a photographer. Maria’s harrowing testimony, and circumstances of the interview reminded me of the duty of care, the responsibility and obligation we have as photographers to repay the trust, the risks, and sometimes the bravery afforded to us by refugees.


Jason Tanner is a British photojournalist. His work has been published in the UK, Europe, USA and Australasia in publications such as The Times (UK), The Telegraph (UK), The Guardian (UK), Sydney Morning Herald (AUS), Courier, TIME Magazine, New York Times, Le Monde and Paris Match. 


1 family torn apart by war is too many

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