The idea was simple: create a platform where refugees can upload their own pictures and stories for use by mainstream media. But what seems simple at first, often turns out to be more complicated than expected. And ever so often a new approach leads to the solution.

In April 2016 Marie-Louise Diekema and Tim Olland, a junior creative team at the ad agency Etcetera, were awarded a Silver Lamp in the ADCN’s Young Talent Awards. The competition teamed up with the WDCD Refugee Challenge, asking young creatives to come up with solutions for the reception and integration of refugees.

Diekema and Olland won their Lamp for Reframe Refugees, a digital platform meant to help curb the predominant image of pitiful and desperate refugees arising from the media. Reframe Refugees was conceived as an alternative photo agency, a photo-based platform where refugees, 90 per cent of whom carry a smartphone, can share their side of the story and show us what they want us to see. The photos would then be available for purchase by media companies.

Refugee Challenge finalist

The project’s potential was recognized by the WDCD Refugee Challenge jury too, that selected Reframe Refugees as one of the five finalists. With that, Diekema and Olland were entitled to 10.000 euros and professional guidance to further develop their concept.

Soon, the team discovered that creating their dream wasn’t as easy as thought. ‘We discovered that building a platform by ourselves was virtually impossible’, Diekema explains. ‘Creating a site like that was way too big for us. So we figured that we had to hook up with an existing platform. That’s how we got in touch with Getty Images, the Dutch branch of which reacted really enthusiastic. But after our proposal was sent to Getty’s international headquarters, we unfortunately never heard from them again.’


A suggestion from Diekema and Olland’s challenge mentor, the journalist and former WDCD speaker Eefje Blankevoort, eventually provided the breakthrough. ‘Eefje connected us with two organizers of a nice, local festival in Beverwijk, Renkonti, where food, music and culture brought refugees and locals together’, Diekema says.

These two are Syrian refugee Wissam Hema, who in Syria worked as an art director in the ad industry, and Jurre Janssen, a project manager at World Press Photo. In reaction to the initial idea the two came up with an alternative plan. Diekema: ‘Wissam and Jurre proposed to organize a competition among refugees to send in their best photos and stories. A jury will than select the winners in different categories, and the winning photos will be used in a traveling exhibition and an accompanying photo book.’


The winners of the competition will also be awarded with education opportunities and/or a financial reward. ‘That solves another issue we had,’ says Olland, ‘because we found out that our initial plan lacked incentives for refugees to share their pictures.’

The exhibition will generate press attention and eventually could still provide Diekema and Olland an entry to one photo platform or another. Diekema: ‘We are very happy with this outcome and once the exhibition is a fact we will have evidence to show any platform we would want to approach for collaboration.’

Diekema and Olland will present the new plans in more detail at the WDCD Grand Finale on 7 March in Amsterdam.


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