According to renowned photographer Shogh Ian, ‘childhood’ is something that millions of children never get to experience. They are born into poverty, then they are abused, sold into slavery, or pushed into a loveless life on the streets. Such children have no idea about the joys of childhood. To them, each day is a struggle. Ms Ian uses her camera like warriors use their pistols — to shoot her way into society’s conscience. Ms Ian wants to make a loud noise through her art and photography. Each year she focusses on a social issue that touches her soul, in the hope of agitating other people’s hearts and minds about subjects that ought to stir us all into action.
Ms Ian told me that she is concerned about children who are thrust into adulthood by shameless abusers. ‘This subject concerns me deeply,’ she said. ‘Many children all over the world are not having the chance to live their childhood properly. In these modern times, we are still hearing and seeing stories about rape, child abuse, child trafficking, forced prostitution, under-aged marriages, lack of eduction… the list is endless.’ Indeed, the World Health Organisation includes ‘neglect’ amongst the growing list. Apart from killing, beating, and hurting children physically, there is the mental abuse, including the complete disregard to a child’s education in terms of life, its meaning, and how one can absorb the beauty of life. For many children, their predominant thought is not how to live well, but how to die quickly, simply because they see no joy in living. Some abused children simply have no idea about the concept of ‘fun’. They live in a dazed frame of mind, wondering why people are so horrid to each other. Some of them do not contemplate escaping, because they do not know (and cannot believe) that there is (or could be) a better place to which to run.
As a photographer, Shogh Ian wants to change the world, one frame at a time. She added, ‘I try to show the faces of downtrodden children, while at the same time, endeavouring to capture the sadness, the longing, and the cries for help. If possible, within the same shot, I want the viewer to see the beauty of a child’s innocent face. Children can project some elements of hope. It takes a long time before a child’s hope can be extinguished. Children are amazing because no matter how badly-off they are, they can still smile. They still seek happiness. They are generous and resilient, if only we can give them a chance. It is never too late for them to be rescued. It is our duty as adults to give them a bright future, while allowing them the time to bask in that short celebration which we call childhood.’
Ms Ian believes that artists can be very powerful in sending messages to passive observers. She wants to raise awareness about this crazy world of inequality. ‘Each one of us ought to do something to help a child, whether it is someone we know locally, or far away in another country. We must combine our efforts in an attempt to make people think about these unacceptable situations and to give more thought about how we can help such children. I also believe that charitable organisations need more support to reach different corners of the Earth.’ I do agree with Ms Ian. I have often said that the camera has changed the world, because it has enabled people to see what is going on. Without the camera, the majority of us would live in ignorance. You can learn more about Shogh Ian’s work at her Facebook page here.
According to the United Nations, more than seven million (7,000,000) children will die this year, before they reach their 5th birthday! What Ms Ian seems disturbed about is that most of these children will die from preventable causes. She added, ‘In Africa, 1 in 8 children die before they turn five years of age. Of those who do survive, they can look forward to a life of slavery, pain, lack of education, and malnutrition. However, my campaign is even broader than this, because to me, child abuse includes silence — when we do not speak-up to help a child in need, or when we do not stop in the street to help a child who is hurting. Sometimes, all they need is someone to say hello to them — to show a little kindness. In fact, I am touched by the words of Mother Teresa when she said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted”. The next time you have a family gathering and you see a child not participating in any games, go over, reach out, and start a fun conversation, and make that child realise that they are important and precious.’
Shogh Ian is more than a photographer. She lives in Beirut, Lebanon and pursues painting and drawing. She said, ‘I enjoy simple, practical philosophies, such as the one shared with us by Bob Marley when he said, ‘Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you’re riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts. Put your vision to reality . Wake Up and Live!” That’s what I try to do. However, in so doing, I do not turn my back on the dark places. I like to shine a flashlight upon the subjects that would otherwise die within the darkness of humanity. I see it as my duty to live, learn, enjoy my life, with the same intensity that I see it my duty to help others. I also like to wake the dead — those people who are not alive beyond their comfort zone, or who are too selfish to engage and enrich others.’
On her Facebook page, Ms Ian tells us, ‘I like to see mankind live together’. Indeed, these are noble dreams. It’s great to see Ms Ian taking a stand towards unity, peace, and justice, especially on behalf of those children whose voice is not loud enough to be heard. Unashamedly, Shogh Ian calls herself an ‘artist’ and adds, ‘Art is not a hobby. It’s a way of life.’ Ms Ian’s art is quite broad, ranging from the colourful and vivid to the subtle and intricate. She says, ‘Give what you can, when you can. To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.’ When you get to know Shogh Ian, you will realise that within her passion is compassion. She is always bright, cheerful, and the first to encourage others to embrace life. Indeed, I can describe her as the photographer with the arresting smile.
Ms Ian was born in 1989. She spent her childhood in the amazing and rich countryside of Lebanon, and she says, ‘This taught me that we are a big part of nature, and nature itself is God’s canvas. All the colours, shapes, and creatures I encountered brought me closer to art. My brushes were the first tools to embody my visions. Thereafter, my lens added a new dimension to how I can express myself.’ Ms Ian added, ‘We’re all just passengers in life, and life is short. That’s why the camera is the best tool for me to capture the most special and attractive moments that I witness.’
Ms Ian graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture, while nurturing her talent for painting in an Art Academy for four years. In an email to me recently, Ms Ian said, ‘I just wish there are more people out there who want to carry the message of peace and love to everyone. Imagine how much we can change in this beautiful world if we work, hand in hand, towards a better life. We keep on dreaming about heaven in the afterlife, and we forget that heaven can be here, on Earth. If only we realise it.
‘We should help everyone around us, in every way we can. We will all leave Earth one day, and we won’t be able to take anything with us. It will all be left behind. How beautiful would it be if we could also leave our good deeds behind!’
All photos here are Copyright Shogh Ian Photography, used with permission.