Josh Estey Captures Sahel Children’s Fight for Survival With a Ricoh GR II

All images by Josh Estey. Used with permission.

Documentary photography at its most raw and relentless, sheds light on today’s most pressing issues that the world needs to pay attention to. As we’ve seen in his previous series, making the world a better place to live, especially children, is among the most urgent on the list. The Los Angeles and Jakarta-based documentary photographer drives the case even further in his heartrending Fight for Survival series.

In his set’s description, Estey recalled his encounters with the children at a feeding center in Niger, whom he visited to document their fight for survival. They were brought to the clinic with the sole intent of survival. He also stressed that the children of Africa’s Sahel regions are at the front lines of climate change, silently fighting the battle of recurring food scarcity in an already harsh and brutal environment. While local sources report 50% of Sahel’s children being severely, the government reports much lower numbers.

As with his work on Jakarta, Estey used a Ricoh GRII and a Godox strobe (sometimes paired with a small light stand) to shoot these poignant portraits of the Sahel children. This simple setup allowed him to work quickly and show the children’s mothers the photos he took straight away.

In Estey’s own words:

I was not here to exploit the suffering of these children but to show a desperate need, while maintaining the dignity and humanity of each child. The parents understood this explicitly without language. They would grab my arm and pull me close asking for their child to be photographed. These mothers knew their children were fighting for survival and needed help. They entrusted me to tell their story.

As I made these photographs of children fighting for survival in a therapeutic feeding center, I’d show their mothers the images on the back of my small pocket camera. Each mother understood why I was there, and raised their hands in appreciation and thanks when viewing the image; a reaction I have never experienced and made all the more moving given the circumstances we shared.

We were granted permission to work for an hour at the Therapeutic Pediatric Centre located at the District Hospital in Marriah. I had about 10 minutes to make these images while the video went into a another room for an interview. I pulled out my light and pocket camera, because I want to show the dignity of these children, and shake the viewer out of their complacency.  It was a tragic scene where we watched tiny babies battle to survive with every breath and were present when one lost their fight.

Visit Josh Estey’s website to see his other projects and follow him on Instagram to stay updated on his work.