A moving portrait of global identity

9 October 2023

My name is Iris Haverkamp Begemann, and I am a documentary photographer from Amsterdam. Through my work, I often shed light on the stories of people who are less visible in society. I strive to create images that empower my subjects, and I undertake projects that span over extended periods.

With the photobook “I Went on a Holiday to the Country You Fled From,” I aim to break free from the prevailing perspectives of “me” and “the Other” that reduce the lives of refugees to abstract concepts. Instead, I hope to foster a collective consciousness by telling the story from a “we” perspective because I believe that we are all both part of the problem and part of the solution.

The Project

In the summer of 2021, I faced a dilemma when contemplating a holiday to Mexico. It wasn’t just about choosing a destination; it was about the impact of my decision on my dear friend Alejandra Ortiz, a Mexican writer and activist who identifies as a trans woman. As a white cis-gender woman, my privilege granted me easy access to visit Mexico, but the same freedom was nearly impossible for Alejandra, given the challenges she faced as a trans woman living in her own country. Meanwhile, Alejandra has been denied a residence permit in the Netherlands for seven years because Mexico is considered “safe” for her.

The questions gnawed at me – Would my visit inadvertently shape the image of Mexico as a carefree vacation destination, while it remained unsafe and unwelcoming for Alejandra and others like her? I felt the urgency to address this disparity and shed light on Alejandra’s plight. This journey marked the beginning of my photo series, “I Went on a Holiday to the Country You Fled From.”

Through this series, I sought to deconstruct the common perception of Mexico as a mere vacation spot and delve into the complexities and hardships faced by marginalized individuals like Alejandra. Guided by a hand drawn map, I immersed myself in her hometown, capturing her memories and experiences. When I returned to the Netherlands, Alejandra beautifully complemented the photographs with her profound thoughts and reflections.

But this project transcends the individual story of Alejandra; it extends to embrace a larger community. For the epilogue of the book, titled “They Can Cut All the Flowers, but They Cannot Stop Spring,” I ventured to meet, portray, and interview other transgender individuals who continue to live in Mexico, seeking refuge in places where they feel safe and accepted.

Publications and exhibitions

The photo series has resulted in several beautiful publications, including features in WePresent, Het Parool, De Volkskrant, PF Magazine, and Switch Magazine. Recently, the series won the Dutch Photography Award ‘23. Additionally, the photo series has been exhibited at Melkweg Expo in Amsterdam and at Outernet Global in London, curated by WePresent.

About the photobook

In addition to the photo series of Alejandra’s birthplace, the epilogue titled “They Can Cut All the Flowers, but They Cannot Stop Spring” is printed as a zine on smaller format newspaper paper and bound within the book. Anthropologist Nancy Siblini (a transwoman who fled from Lebanon) has also contributed an essay on identity and belonging for the book. Finally, the book includes a conversation between Alejandra and me about the relationship between the “subject” and the “photographer,” and our collaboration.

Together with graphic designer Tjade Bouma, I have worked with great joy and dedication to compile all the stories into a photobook.

Click here to pre-order the book.
Website Iris Haverkamp Begemann

The Hurgronje Family Fund made a financial contribution to the publication of this book.

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