Occupation: Refugee

Born in Italy, and introduced to imagery at an early age, Annamaria Bruni is a multifaceted and accomplished documentary photographer.

Taking her first steps in the field, working as a photography assistant in her home land of Sardinia, Annamaria pursued a course in fashion photography in one of the most influential cities in the world, Milan.

Eventually, her journey continued to London. She became acquainted with some of the best model agencies and spent three years specialising in female portraiture, which she proudly describes as her “greatest passion to this day”.

You might be wondering, how Annamaria transitioned from this, to the documentary photography and photojournalism that has won her several awards over the past three years, and that you see here today.

Following a trip to Egypt in 2004 – a place that became her home for over ten years – she became “bewitched by the Middle East”, and subsequently spent all of her time travelling to countries that most ordinary people wouldn’t wish to step foot in.

Not only an extraordinary photographer, Annamaria is an admirable humanitarian.
Concerned with the state of immigration across the globe, she has worked alongside several NGOs that are currently supporting refugees in West Bank, Gaza , Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Thailand and Myanmar – (UNHCR– Terre des Hommes – Vento di Terra, Cooperazione Italiana and Help without Frontiers).

“To me photography is like loving.”

At the beginning of this journey, at West Bank in 2011, the project Occupation: Refugee was born.

“I started collecting personal stories of elderly refugees and former political prisoners while volunteering in Aida refugee camp. I wanted to know what it means to lose everything; how could someone shoulder such a burden and accept the idea of permanent exile” she explains.


Being a refugee is a heavy price to pay.

Even the word ‘refugee’ has somewhat become violent in itself.

It’s printed across front pages, repeated in fake news and used for political propaganda everywhere in order to fuel the demonisation of those who are labelled, ‘a refugee’.

Annamaria expresses that “integration in a new country doesn’t always depend on the refugees’ ability to face the trauma of abandonment and separation. It is often the attitude of the host population that relegates them in a limiting and demoralising reality. This is why refugees often do not take their place in the world, and in some cases being a refugee becomes a full time occupation.”

An occupation that causes competition over who deserves the title of asylum seeker. That induces sleepless nights about how to eat the next day, and where to sleep. An occupation that provokes despair about yet another family member being killed, or which ocean, or continent to cross next.

Many were once doctors, artists, teachers, lawyers, shop keepers, chefs, barber’s, students, mother’s and fathers.

Yet many governments still refuse to let them in.

According to the UN, in 2016 more than 65.5 million people are now displaced worldwide.

These are human beings, who’s attributes have been simplified, and their worth has been sculpted for them, by people who know absolutely nothing about the struggle they endure.

It’s because of this that Annamaria tells me she is “hoping to be able to spread empathy for a human condition that could belong to any of us through these tales, and to help develop solidarity and tolerance” with her imagery.


Photographs of young children running alongside armed military, people with burns and physical impairments, and women with tired eyes in their traditionally decorated homes are compelling for the imagination. Amongst them, tranquil and contrasting imagery of a beautiful mountain scene, where three boys play by a river with the sun beaming down on them. These deeply moving photographs are a loud political comment on our modern world and expose the deep truths about the state of the planet that we share. The connection between subject and photographer is honest and apparent, and Annamaria’s infatuation with these subjects beams through her words, “to me, photography is like loving”.

“My interest in refugees began with one picture”

She tells me where it all began; “My interest in refugees began with one picture. In 1985 National Geographic published a photo by Steve McCurry on its cover. It was the portrait of a young Afghan girl, she had managed to escape from her war torn country and found sanctuary in the Peshawar refugee camp in Pakistan. The expression on her face, and her ice-cold eyes, soon made this picture famous worldwide, and powerfully exposed the sadness of her condition. That photo has stayed with me ever since.”

We can only imagine what these people are being exposed to, which is why Annamaria’s work is all the more important. Experiencing their tales first hand Annamaria tells me that “the stories vary, but are linked by a common thread: the hope to return home one day, the wait, and finally resignation.” It’s unlikely that many refugees will ever return home, and will probably be “resigned to a life of donations and handouts”, as she puts it.

It’s a heart breaking revelation, but Annamaria hopes that her stories and photographs will “bring this difficult situation, which refugees are facing, to audiences worldwide, and to raise awareness for the problems of refugees around the globe.”

Website: Annamaria Bruni
Instagram: @annamariabruni.ph



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