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Press release

UNICEF sponsored photo exhibit by children of Beslan opens today

BESLAN, Russia, 26 August 2005 - Photos taken by children from Beslan go on display in the town’s Cultural Centre today – the result of a photography and journalism workshop for the children organised by UNICEF (22-28 July). The exhibition, entitled Children Are the Most Precious Thing in the World, will run until 9 September.

Thirteen children aged 13 to 18 – five of whom were hostages during the siege of School No. 1 last September – took part in the workshop. They learned about photography and writing from UNICEF photographer Giacomo Pirozzi and journalist John Varoli before going out into Beslan to produce their own photos and stories.

The workshop took place at the Rehabilitation Centre supported by UNICEF in nearby Vladikavkaz. Some 4,000 people have received medical and psycho-social assistance at the Centre since the end of the siege, which left 338 people dead, half of them children.

The three-day siege during which over 1,000 people were held hostage in the school gym without food or water ended in terrible carnage and the emotional toll on the town is still apparent one year later. UNICEF is concerned that many people may never fully recover from the loss without long-term help to move forward in their lives. 

The workshop was led by Pirozzi, who showed the children images of other children who had experienced tragedy, including AIDS sufferers in Africa and tsunami victims in Asia. Originally intended to illustrate photographic techniques, the shots provoked a strong response among the children, with a dawning realisation that grief and hope can co-exist.

Pirozzi subsequently showed his own photos of the aftermath of the Beslan tragedy, which were received by the children in absolute silence. Surprisingly, they decided to go back to School No. 1 and look at the scene with their new camera ‘eyes’. Initial reservations on the part of the UNICEF organizers were overcome by the determination of the children themselves. The children also decided to visit the graveyard, some of the bereaved families, one of the new schools being built in Beslan and the Rehabilitation Centre itself.  They also decided to capture their own optimism with a series of photos on the theme of ‘Joy and Love’.

“It was at this point that it ceased to be simply a photography workshop and become a profound form of therapy,” said Pirozzi. “The children became determined to face the horror and ended up with beautiful photos full of colour, especially their photos on `Joy and Love’.”

For two days the children studied their own tragedy with new eyes and skills, focusing on the difficulties of finding the best angles and lines, the best light and perspective and other photographic techniques.

“The transformation among the children was extraordinary because their self-confidence and skill at confronting their tragedy in this way seemed to liberate their spirits,” said UNICEF Communication Officer John Brittain. “By day five of the workshop we had a very cheerful and chirpy bunch of youngsters, compared with the nervous and subdued group we met on day one.” 

One of the students, 17-year-old Alina, who had been held hostage during the siege summed up the impact of the workshop.
“I liked the workshop very much. At first I didn’t think it would be interesting, but it really absorbed me, distracted me, transported me to another world.”

Alina had been blasted back and forwards across the school gym by two explosions at the end of the siege.  She had never been able to confront her pain and had rarely, if ever, talked about her experiences. At the end of the workshop she approached UNICEF staff to say “I think I am now ready for rehabilitation.”

The exhibition will be opened at 14:30 on Friday, 26 August by the UNICEF Representative, Carel de Rooy, and will be on display until Friday, 9 September. Around 100 photographs have been selected from the thousands taken by the children, accompanied by captions written by the children themselves, adding to the impact of each image.

For more information:

John Brittain, UNICEF Russian Federation, 
tel: (+ 7095) 933 8818. Cell: (+ 7095) 761 6648.
email: jbrittain@unicef.org

Angela Hawke, UNICEF CEE/CIS and Baltics,
tel (+ 4122) 909 5433. Cell (+4179 601 9917)
email: ahawke@unicef.org

Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media New York,
tel:  (+ 1) 212 326 7452.  email: kdonovan@unicef.org





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