HOPE – by Alexander von Wiedenbeck

HOPE – by Alexander von Wiedenbeck

 

It can be summed up in one sentence that this was by far the worst and at the same time most wonderful trip of my life so far. Terrible on the one hand due to the disastrous and in fact surreal living conditions of the children on the Philippines. On the other hand, though these children opened up my heart so much more than I had ever thought possible. The hope, faith and love of these children is much greater than the world they live in.

They told me it’s a different world but I answered, no, it’s the same world!
Alexander von Wiedenbeck // Philippines, 2015

But let’s go back to the beginning. It was the thought of giving something back. With all the countless advertising productions, fashion shoots, portraits around the world I have experienced and seen a great deal, usually just good things. I have met inspiring people, travelled to magical places and experienced intense moments. The world has given me a great deal, it’s about time I returned the favor. But how, where and above all with whom? So I wrote to ten German aid organizations and offered my support and more importantly presented my vision of a pioneering social responsibility project within the photography industry. Following numerous talks, considerations and after comparing the brutal facts I then chose the “Aktionsgruppe Kinder in Not e.V.”  from Windhagen with its projects on the Philippines. Children living in cemeteries, rubbish dumps, forced child prostitution were concepts that had stopped me in my tracks and moved me to start here.

So I’d taken the first step, the project was happening, what next? How should I prepare myself for the trip, physically with vaccinations etc. or the far more important question, mentally? After all, you can imagine that you’re about to be confronted with quite a bit when you hear about children living in cemeteries and rubbish dumps. I did of course do some research beforehand, read reports, watched documentaries about them but looking back now there was nothing that could have actually prepared me for this trip. When you’re standing in the middle of a quagmire of rubbish, rats, starving and sick dogs for the first time and then a little girl is standing in front of you crying and surrounded by flies in a just 2 x 2 meter wooden hut… what on earth are you going to prepare and how can you even presume at all that you could prepare for something like this.

Unimaginable – life in a just 2 x 2 meter wooden hut, day in day out!
Alexander von Wiedenbeck // Philippines, 2015

And yet I have my mission and therefore have to function as the person I am… the photographer, the supposed voyeur who captures and documents the moment without interacting, without changing anything. And what should you change, should you say to a crying child “Smile, say cheese”?… bullshit! The moment was there in its full and merciless cruelty, unadorned… so I hold up my camera and press the shutter release!

I remember one of the first evenings in Cebu City really well, I was sitting together with my travel companions from the “Aktionsgruppe” having dinner in their hotel and we were talking about the day’s experiences or to be more precise we were processing them. The walk back to my hotel afterwards led me approx. 500 m through the city center. Just before my hotel I was crossing over a large busy junction when I could see the figure of a small person on the pavement. I went up to it and it was in fact a little girl, barely five years old lying on the pavement dressed in shorts, a t-shirt with no shoes, with her head towards a steep downward slope without a pillow or anything similar. In the headlights of the cars driving past you could see the heavy clouds of smoke of the unfiltered exhaust fumes drifting over her.

All people, all children have one thing in common: their right to live, their right to exist!
Alexander von Wiedenbeck // Philippines, 2015

I stood there frozen for at least half an hour next to the sleeping girl and considered my options. Who could I call, the police or ambulance, probably not, what should I do though? Who can help in this kind of situation? Not really knowing where to turn I approached the hotel’s security staff who had already been watching me from not far away. I asked him whether he knew the girl and where the parents were. He said she is homeless and her parents are probably out collecting returnable bottles or something similar. After insistently asking once again what we could do, he simply shrugged his shoulders. So I went back to the girl where an American and his little daughter had now arrived. He’d also seen the girl and wanted to show his daughter that she/we should be grateful for our circumstances in the Western world. We chatted for quite a while about the girl and what we could do. For one moment I had even considered booking a room in the hotel for the girl so that she could sleep in a proper bed for once and shower or take a bath… but what could I do the next day then? And as we were standing there deliberating another member of security approached us, he waved his torch light up and down the little girl, kicked the girl to wake her up and shooed her away. Under the bridge opposite, in the middle of the road junction, I could just make out her silhouette in the dark still as she once again laid down on the floor to sleep. Shocked, confused and absolutely incredulous about what I had just seen I asked the man whether that was better now, he just shrugged his shoulders like the one before and said in his broken English, “what should we do?” And at that moment I also thought, he’s right, what can we do? I didn’t get a wink of sleep that night.

(The full story from Alexander von Wiedenbeck within the exhibition catalog)

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