FESTIVAL SELECTEE 2024

LAMEES SALEH SHARAF EL DIN

‘Indefinitely'

How can we give voice to people who no longer are with us? How can we give them a face years after they disappeared? Egyptian photographer Lamees Saleh Sharaf el Din’s moving project ‘Indefinitely’ is an in depth documentary exploration of the widespread problem of child abductions in Egypt. But the project does more than document an extensive problem. It aims to help the victim’s families and give back some sense of hope and agency through forensic age progression images that can help families recognise their kidnapped children.

“When I started meeting the families, I discovered that there were common, recurring aspects in the families’ stories that were ignored amidst the great chaos related to the kidnapping and search stories and that these factors were the main reason that most of the children did not return to their families. I felt that if I photographed and presented this story that could be a reason for resolving these loopholes. To create awareness of the problem and its seriousness, my project could contribute to prevent the kidnapping of more children in Egypt.”

Lamees Saleh Sharaf el Din

ENTANGLEMENT

Where did all the kids go?

Project: Indefinitely, by Lamees Saleh Sharaf el Din

First time Egyptian documentary photographer Lamees Saleh Sharaf el Din picked up a camera was during the Arab Spring revolution in 2011. Thus the events that transformed her country, also gave her a new powerful tool to bring about change and awareness to matters close to her heart. It was specifically Sharaf el Din’s contact with Jamal, a child beggar in the streets of Cairo, that set the project ‘Indefinitely’, about child kidnappings in Egypt, in motion – a crisis that has begun to increase in her country since the Arab Spring. 

Lamees Saleh Sharaf el Din // Indefinitely

The Arab Spring abductions

The heart of “Indefinitely” lies in its documentation of the lives of the families grappling with the abduction of their children, woven together on a map that traces the trajectory of these harrowing narratives, the first of them coming from forty years ago with a family still searching for their daughter. The latest statistics provided, sourced from police reports and Child Helpline data, paint a chilling picture of the magnitude of child kidnappings. An average of four children were kidnapped every day within three months in one governorate in 2017 and more than two thousand children were kidnapped in 2018 and 2019 underscoring the urgency and gravity of the issue.

Tracking a pattern of kidnapping

Lamees Saleh Sharaf el Din not only sheds light on the horrific statistics but delves into the personal narratives, humanising the victims and their families. The driving force behind her project lies in emphasising the common, overlooked aspects in families’ stories that could potentially lead to the resolution of these cases and uncover the general pattern for the abductions. Sharaf el Din’s project thus unfolds not only the horrific statistics, photographs of the families left behind but also digitally generated images of children.

Lamees Saleh Sharaf el Din // Indefinitely

Giving agency to the families of the victims

She collaborates with forensic artist Tim Widden listed by the National Crime Agency in London and his drawn images to mitigate the challenge faced by families who fear not recognizing their children as they grow older. Forensic artists draw on photo-compositing images of these children and family members to create the age progression. Though they use aspects they see in the genealogy and biology of the family they also use artistic determinants to create the new images. 

“The families of the victims kept saying to me: ‘My child is getting older, I’m afraid if I saw her/him in the street, I wouldn’t know her/him.’ Requesting this type of image from a forensic artist abroad poses additional challenges, and until 2022 the cost of creating such an image was approximately $450 and there is no reliable age progression app for young children. And you do not want to risk publishing an inaccurate image for the young child.”

A call to action

This part of the project gives a sense of agency to the families of the kidnapped children who often have no help or authorities to turn to. Beyond the individual stories, “Indefinitely” carries political and social significance. It unravels a complex tapestry of societal issues, from the aftermath of the 2011 revolution to the broader implications of child kidnappings. 

The project prompts viewers to reflect on systemic challenges, urging society to confront and address the root causes contributing to the prevalence of child abductions. The project transcends photographic documentation, becoming a call to action, a plea for awareness and empathy, and a reminder of the collective responsibility to safeguard the well-being of the most vulnerable members of society.

Lamees Saleh Sharaf el Din // Indefinitely

ENTANGLEMENT

“The families of all kidnapped children are connected to each other over space and time. They have suffered from the same issue and find themselves in this network of confusion and several times, helplessness. From the first cases began forty years ago and until now the families have gone through twenty-seven different governments in Egypt and all are facing the same difficult journey and suffering. They are all entangled together.”

— Lamees Saleh Sharaf el Din

Text and edit · Felipe Abreu and Christine Almlund

ARTIST BIO

Lamees Saleh Sharf El Din is a documentary photographer and visual storyteller based in Cairo. She started her career amid the January 25th Revolution of 2011 to express and document the states of loneliness and identity loss in her country. She was part of the Danish School of Media and Journalism (DMJX) educational program in 2022. With her background in psychology and sociology, what drives her artistic work are ways of visually exposing and narrating social matters in Egypt.

Selected achievements

  • – 2023 Shortlisted For The CAP Prize 
  • – 2022 Grant received from Magnum Foundation and the Arab Documentary Photography Program.
  • – 2014 National Geographic Egypt Award, Silver medal