“I am not a good photographer; I am a good observer,” stated Antonio Aragón Renuncio, a Spanish photographer and winner of multiple international awards, at the International Photography Festival XPOSURE 2019, now underway at Expo Centre Sharjah.
In conversation with Aidan J Sullivan, Director and Founder of The Ian Parry Scholarship who moderated the session, Renuncio described how it was his “curiosity” that drove him into the field of photography. “I was a very curious child, always looking for new things,” he said. “From the moment I received my first camera, it seduced me and I fell in love with it.”
His initial subjects were “sunsets and cats”, followed by a period when he was fixated on “the magic of black and white photography”.
Soon thereafter, “colour appeared in my life,” said the Photojournalism winner of the 2018 edition of XPOSURE. For 25 years since, Renuncio has been telling his stories in colour to portray “contrasts, faces, and suffering” in the lives of the underprivileged, particularly across Africa.
Renuncio has a penchant for seeking out stories that are not making the headlines or covered in the general news cycle. “I prefer to stay in the middle of nowhere, and look out for stories in far off, hidden places. For me, the most important thing is the lived experience, not events that are making the news.”
His long-term investigative projects thus shine a light on those that exist in the shadows, or what he calls “the forlorn”.
It was Renuncio’s association with an NGO which undertakes medical projects in Africa that led him to the story of ‘Snake Kids’ in Togo. This powerful multimedia film depicts the plight of children afflicted with cerebral palsy. These kids, who move on the ground like ‘snakes’ because of their severe physical disabilities, were sometimes drowned in the river as a ritual to enable the ‘serpent’ to leave their bodies.
Two other stories that he has shot, written and produced in multimedia format were also screened at the event. The Soul Eaters tells the story of the women of the Mossi tribes in Burkino Faso who are accused of being ‘witches’ simply because they are held responsible for the misfortunes happening in the village. Many are killed by their families, or commit suicide, and those that do manage to escape face a bleak, lonely future.
In Childhood Lost – also part of his photography exhibition at XPOSURE this year, Renuncio visits the several artisanal mines across Burkino Faso where children dig holes, several hundred metres into the ground, in near-death conditions, “all for a handful of gold dust with which to feed the family.”
For his next project Antonio Renuncio will revisit the ‘Snake Kids’, who have now learnt to play football. “After that, I will go down south where global warming has caused the seas to take over homes and villages along the coast, creating pockets of ‘islands’. In one such island, only one man resides, with water reaching up to his knees,” he says.
Organised by the Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB), XPOSURE 2019 continues at Expo Centre Sharjah until Sunday, September 22.