A migrant looks out of a window on a police bus after arriving at the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) Maritime Squadron base at Haywharf in Valletta’s Marsamxett Harbour early July 10, 2013.

Mohammed’s eyes

The young man was just another of the hundreds of asylum-seekers I’ve photographed arriving in Malta over the years, sometimes disembarking from the boat that rescued them when their rickety vessels ran into trouble while crossing the Mediterranean, or sitting on a bus while waiting to be driven away to police headquarters for processing by immigration officials. But with a momentary glance, all that changed. His gaze straight at me was piercing and haunting, tearing through my camera lens and into my mind’s eye, burrowing itself deeper into the innermost recesses of my psyche.

I tracked him down, met and interviewed him about a month later at a detention center. Seventeen-year-old Mohammed Ilmi Adam, from Mogadishu, fled Somalia to try to find his parents who he believes escaped to Europe when he was just a child. He had no recollection of seeing me shooting his picture when he arrived here – but he was glad I did. “Maybe my parents or someone who knows them will see me and recognize me,” he said.

Though I often photograph arriving would-be immigrants, it’s very rare that I’m able to speak to them afterwards and gauge their reaction to being photographed. Hearing what Mohammed had to say gives shooting these pictures a stronger sense of purpose than ever before, however remote the odds of his finding his parents through the photo may be.

Canon EOS-1D X  
Canon EF 70-200mm L/2.8 L IS USM
Focal length 200mm
Manual exposure
1/40 sec
ISO 5000

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