September 22, 2015

‘Life Seekers’ by Jillian Edelstein

This group of refugees arrived on Lesvos by dinghy. The group are gathering up their belongings, amazed that they’ve arrived and finally are at the ‘gateway’ to Europe. There is something so poignant about the little girls red cap and coat. Jillian Edelstein

Counterpoints Arts is pleased to be working with acclaimed photographer, Jillian Edelstein, on a series called “Life Seekers’ focusing on the current refugee crisis.

‘Life Seekers’ features Edelstein’s hallmark mix of portraiture and photojournalism. As with her award-winning Truth and Lies, on the South African ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ Commission (2002), Life Seekers takes us on a critical journey via a photographic and written chronicle.

Shot on film and using medium format, Edelstein captures the intimate experience of refugees whose diversity of identity belies the often one-dimensional stereotypes in the media. ‘Life Seekers’ aims to reveal overlapping stories of desperation, fear, strength, and disbelief, resilience, imagination, hope, joy and deep humanity.


This man in the Jungle, Calais used my battered old Hasselblad to turn the tables; don’t think he took the shot. Jillian Edelstein

Life Seekers includes stories of solidarity and civic courage of people witnessing and choosing to act; of citizens fearful and anxious about what they see unfolding on a daily basis and nearby; of decision makers who determine the fate of refugees and whole communities.  Life Seekers also aims to document the everyday work of humanitarian agencies on the ground and the grueling interventions made by maritime rescuers. Life Seekers importantly pays homage to the people who have ‘disappeared’ en route to the so-called ‘promised land’.

Life Seekers is accompanied  by Edelstein’s diary reflecting on the images etched into the photographic frame. And will include commissioned essays by human rights thinkers and creative writers merging with the individual stories and voices of refugees and non-refugees encountered en route.

Jillian Edelstein’s work on campaigns with NGO’s like FXB International, Oxfam, Save the Children Fund in Africa, India, China and South America has been widely published and exhibited internationally. Edelstein has over 100 portraits in the National Portrait Gallery archive and has been commissioned (amongst others) by the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Time Magazine, the Financial Times, Sunday Times and the Guardian.

Edelstein is finalising three longer term projects: Here and There, an investigation through memoire and archives of her own family history of migration and displacement, from Latvia to the Ukraine and South Africa; a photographic book of the traditional healers, the Sangoma, who live and train on the Southern Africa-Lesotho border; and Affinities, a series of over 100 photographic portraits taken of icons of the arts and politics in the US, the UK, Europe commenting on the nature of creative collaboration and the endurance of deep friendships.

See Edelstein’s work and profile here: