Shattering the confines of comfort to expose injustice
Damien Schumann doesn’t deal in the abstract. When he takes a photograph, he wants to see a result. Not with framing or composition, but in concrete social transformation. Schumann immerses himself in places few are willing to go, from a Cape Town morgue to the Mexico-United States border. But this isn’t about voyeurism. He represents his subjects with sensitivity, each image underpinned by a common cause. “Photography is a means to acquire understanding beyond my personal bubble,” Schumann says, “and generate change within these places that I have the privilege to go to.”
Since he began taking photographs, Schumann has been heavily involved in fighting for human rights issues and has previously worked with the World Health Organisation. But his advocacy has often placed him in precarious positions. “I’ve been threatened because I’ve tried to give people a voice, from governments to gangsters to drug dealers,” Schumann says. “Oppressors don’t like the idea of people speaking out.” This doesn’t deter him – it only motivates him further. “I want to shed light on the human injustice that people face on a daily basis,” Schumann says. By doing so, he has contributed to changes in policies worldwide.
Schumann’s exhibition, The Shack, drew global attention to the living conditions in South Africa that contribute to the spread of tuberculosis and HIV. It received a nod of recognition from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and prompted the Dutch and Australian governments to invest more in health care. In 2011, Schumann earned his place on the Mail & Guardian’s list of 200 Young South Africans. “The only way we are going to progress is if we innovate in the way that we perceive things,” he says. “Photography allows me to be a part of something greater than I am.” Schumann’s work shows the power local artists have. “You need to be brave if you want to make an impact on the world,” Schumann says. We all have the ability to change people's lives if we dare to break free from our comfort zones.