And it is in this atmosphere of mutual understanding and shared experience that connections are made, networks are built and the groundwork for new ways of engaging with the world is laid. “Because these pictures are not just pictures,” explains Muhammed. “No, these are voices, messages, testimonies of people, of issues, of solutions.” In particular, the story and work of fellow awards judge and 2022 winner, Paola Andrade moved him to tears. With her R6, she took a simple photograph that was utterly captivating – a gold heart-shaped locket containing a photograph of a tiny girl, taken against a blood red background. “This is her when she was a little girl and she wears it around her neck as a reminder of where she was then and where she is today,” he says quietly. Paola is a survivor of child sexual abuse and, together with Ricardo Vélez, launched the ‘Ecuador Says No More’ campaign to encourage other survivors to speak up and uncover the many thousands of hidden victims.
Her image spoke deeply to Muhammed. “She is a survivor and a voice for millions of women. I felt her pain, but I also felt her courage. I could just look at her picture as a picture – the subject, the light, the background – but it is the emotions I feel that will make it live forever inside my heart.” The image connected with him in a powerful new way, and so it did with others, and will continue to do so. This truth-speaking is a key lesson that Muhammed teaches through the Young People Programme, beyond the tools and techniques. “It's about the process before. The responsibility of carrying a camera and going out to capture stories and images. It's about ethics, credibility, integrity. It's about not invading people's privacy, seeking permission, documenting with accuracy,” he explains. “When people trust you, they will open their doors to you, and this comes with responsibility. You must show them respect, portray them with pride and carry their voices to the outside world.”
In one short, hectic weekend, a world of changemakers came together to share their stories – and their photographs – and to Muhammed, it quickly felt like a family. Some were finalists in the same category, but you would never have known. They even shared their awards on stage, such were the familial bonds among those who understand that, ultimately, they share one goal. “On our first day, during the introduction, we were asked to share a wish,” Muhammed smiles. “Everyone answered that their wish is to make the world a better place. And these are just the people we managed to meet. There are many, many, many others out there who wish for the same.” In a world that can feel oppressively negative and filled with despair, just to know that so many people are living lives of hope and making a concrete difference in the world is genuinely uplifting.
And like nature itself, knowing that when they meet, they begin to form intricate networks, drawing on each other’s strengths, knowledge and creativity, it feels like there are no limits to what they can achieve when we unite to act. “It's connecting, it's inspiring, it's mobilising,” he continues. “What happened in Rome has inspired me to go further. You realise that, at the end of the day, each of us has a role to play. We didn't come to this planet just to waste time. I want to make a difference. I want to leave a mark and I want to join forces with others. To learn, inspire and be inspired.
One hand doesn't clap. We all need to come to come together to make a stronger impact.”