Aline Deschamps documents the “beauty, creativity and strength” of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon
In her long-term project, the photographer thrashes stereotypes by shedding light on the powerful and celebratory side of her subjects.
- Ayla Angelos
- 17 January 2022
There are many reasons why someone might turn towards photography, communication being one of them. Aline Deschamps, a half-French half-Thai photographer who grew up in both countries, ended up working mainly in cultural diplomacy in Bangkok after her studies abroad. “That’s when I realised I could not do an office job,” she tells It’s Nice that. “So I decided to focus on the thing I was always doing in parallel: photography.” What drew her in to the medium, though, was its accessibility and ability to connect with people throughout the process. “Having a camera with me was almost a pretext to meet people and exchange with them. With time, I also understood the inherent political aspect of capturing and representing a subject. And this stayed with me.”
It was a perfect fit. Not only has Aline mastered the techniques needed to take a good portrait, she’s also refined her ethos and actively seeks to tell stories related to gender, exile, migration and cultural heritage through her image-making. These themes specifically come from her own experiences growing up between countries and cultures; “I always wonder about the construction of one’s identity,” she notes. “The strength and resilience of people having to recreate a home away from home is really something that touches me.” Perhaps this is why her work evokes such as profound sense of assuredness – of connection and honesty – that would only be achieved if the image taker had experienced these themes themselves.
In terms of other influences, Aline is also inspired greatly by stereotypes and the desire to reverse them – especially when it comes to the perception of countries or subjects that are labelled in a certain way. This includes terms like “violent, weak, vulnerable, hostile”, all of which spark a curiosity for the photographer who aims to show the “different layers of complexity” and avoid the “Manichaean or sensationalist representation” of the subject at hand.
All of this becomes paramount throughout her long-term project entitled I Am Not Your Animal. The work, comprising intimate, wistful yet sun-drenched portraiture, looks at the topic of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. It was while visiting as a tourist in May 2019 that Aline started to notice the mistreatment of these women; she was left horrified. “I was shocked by the tiny space in apartments where some of the domestic workers had to sleep,” she recalls. “We cannot even call it a room, it was not decent. Then, people I met started telling me about the abuses and the rate of ‘suicides’ (it is labelled this way by the Lebanese authority): two domestic workers die each week in Lebanon. I was shocked.”
Aline was motivated to pick up her camera and start photographing, especially since Covid-19 arose and put even more pressure on those most vulnerable – like migrant and domestic workers. It fit with her ethos of showing the other side of the narrative, revealing stories like that of a specific group of women from Sierra Leone who had been left unemployed due to escaping abusive households and human trafficking, not because of the lockdown or Lebanese economic crisis. The title of the project, too, is derived from interviews she had with her subjects. “Their passports were being confiscated, they were locked down, they did not have a day off, they had to sleep in the kitchen or on the balcony,” adds Aline. “These were the experiences they were telling me. They felt dehumanised. ‘I was treated like an animal’ was a sentence often repeated during my interviews with the women.”
Drawing our attention to an image of women at the beach, this particular image shows how they are confined to the top of their small apartment in Tariq El Jdide. “It was continuously hot, noisy and very hard for them to be trapped in such a small space,” shares Aline of when she’d met the women. She took them to the nearby beach, where some of them revealed they’d never seen the sea in Lebanon; “they did not even know we were close to the sea, I thought we needed to fix that.” It’s through the impactful work of Aline – both in her visual representation of her subjects and with physical, personal interactions she has with them – that we can all learn of these situations. But rather than depicting hardship in a dark or gloomy manner, Aline wants her audience to perceive her work in a joyful, powerful manner.
“I knew I wanted to represent migrant domestic workers from a place of dignity and power,” she concludes. “I think their beauty, their creativity and strength were things which really inspired me, and that needed to be shared. It was crucial for me to represent migrant domestic workers having fun and doing ordinary things in order to reveal our common humanity. First, because I want them to be proud of their images, but also because this visual testimony can enable the shift on how these women are perceived in the region.”
GalleryAline Deschamps: I Am Not Your Animal (Copyright © Aline Deschamps, 2022)
Aline Deschamps: I Am Not Your Animal (Copyright © Aline Deschamps, 2022)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.