Photo of the Week: Grief in the Balata Refugee Camp

Photo credit: Matthew Cassel
Date taken: 2006
Location: Balata Refugee Camp, West Bank, Palestine

Emotional women and men gather inside of a home in the Balata Refugee Camp, the largest refugee camp in the West Bank. Nearly 30,000 Palestinian refugees reside in the refugee camp which is notorious for its dense overpopulation and inadequate access to healthcare and basic necessities.

I’ve spent countless hours studying this photograph. I can’t tell if the women are passionately chanting or deeply grieving but something is clearly wrong. What appears to be a small, glistening tear drop on the right cheek of the woman to the left of the frame makes me comfortable with my assumption, even though I’d be wrong to say that all tears are sad ones. But the curled eyebrows of the woman to the right of the frame give it all away. Could these refugees be grieving over a death? Could they be expressing their frustration over the rights and liberties they could never exercise? In a place like Balata, where people are literally made to live on top of one another in deplorable conditions, the possibilities are endless. Whatever it is, I feel the pain.

Matthew Cassel, the photojournalist who captured this thought-provoking and emotion-stirring photograph is, without any doubt in my mind, the greatest photographer. I’m no authority figure on the matter, but his ability to capture the raw emotion of the subject and transfer it to the viewer without any loss in power, form, or quality is a feat unrivaled in the photojournalism world. His images are versatile in that they can be overtly vague yet still elicit an emotional response and, quite possibly, a deduced understanding. The photograph above is abstract in many ways, but it is also very real. It speaks volumes about the condition of the Balata Refugee Camp.


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