Malin Fezehai was raised in a multicultural Stockholm neighborhood with a Swedish mother and Eritrean father. A photography class in high school was her introduction to what would become her life’s work. Advice from a teacher “Use whatever you are,” became a compass to her storytelling. Now, a renowned photographer and filmmaker, her photojournalism focuses on the displaced and dislocated. “I think I gravitate to this because of my background, because I’ve never been attached to or had a really strong sense of my own cultural background,” she expressed in a conversation with Alexis Stember Coulter of the Adorama Learning Center. “I feel very connected to a strong sense of otherness. So whenever I come across a community that is a little bit outside the bigger society, or is a bit on the fringe...I relate to that very strongly.”
Being a brown Swede was not without its identity issues, but Fezehai uses her familiarity with the feeling of displacement to relate to her subjects, likely the reason her work always has an intimate feel. In turn, that intimacy is likely the reason her images have reached widespread acclaim. Her 2014 work with African asylum seekers in Southern Israel was featured in TIME Magazine’s TIME LightBox series, which features the world’s best photojournalism. In 2015 she received the World Press Photo Award, the Wallis Annenberg Prize and was named one of the 30 Emerging Photographers to watch by Photo District News. Breaking barriers, her image of an Eritrean refugee wedding in Israel was the first iPhone image to receive a World Press Photo Award.
Currently, Fezehai is a visual reporter at the New York Times, and has just covered a story on a team of young girls in Jamaica with hopes of becoming Olympic synchronized swimmers. Her hope is that her work continues to raise awareness of what she covers. “I think that photography today has a more important role than ever since we’re constantly consuming images...I do believe in the long-term effect of photography in creating awareness,” she tells Coulter. “Sometimes you work really hard on a project and at the end of it you ask yourself, is this doing any good?...And you have to face the fact that maybe this won’t impact anything or anybody at all, but you go into it hoping that it will.”