Few things in life are black and white.
For Wesaam Al-Badry, however, matters concerning human rights — particularly those relating to women and children — leave no room for negotiation.
A 28-year-old, Iraqi-born photojournalist who now calls Nebraska home, Al-Badry’s childhood experiences helped mold his unrelenting perspective. His life struggles have left their indelible mark on his photography, which is a tribute to the strength and resiliency of women.
Al-Badry was 7 years old when the first Gulf War forced his family to flee their native Iraq in 1991 and seek refuge at a camp in Rafah, Saudi Arabia. He still recalls how his mother led him and his four siblings though knee-deep mud until they found protection.
From 1991 through 1994, he lived in the Saudi refugee camp where he shared a tent with his family. While his memories of that time are understandably grim, they are nevertheless complemented by his recollection of photojournalists who came to capture the camp’s hopelessness with the aid of a camera.
“While growing up in a refugee camp, I felt a renewed sense of humanity’s kindness when I saw photojournalists snap pictures that would bring help for the people living there in despair,” reflects Al-Badry. “To me, they were my super heroes; they represented freedom, hope and inspiration.”
And like most children who revere their heroes, Al-Badry aspired to be like the photojournalists he extolled.
“I got my first camera while still at the refugee camp and started taking pictures,” remembers Al-Badry. “I was about 9 years old and I traded a bag of marbles, three VHS tapes and a new button-down shirt for a 35 millimeter camera with no film and a pair of Reebok basketball shoes with another kid at the refugee camp.”
In 1994, Al-Badry’s family moved to a refugee relocation center in Lincoln, Nebraska and shortly thereafter Al-Badry’s father walked out on them, leaving his mother to care for five children in a new country on her own.
“I was fourteen, the eldest, and so it was understood that after my father left I would be the ‘Man of the House,” describes a contemplative Al-Badry. “I saw my mother’s struggles and I was privy to all her stresses and anxieties. I saw how she learned to become an independent woman — getting a driver’s license, bank account and renting a home.”
Today, Al-Badry devotes himself to his family and his photography.