Interview by Elise Straalberg.
Therese Alice Sanne is a Norwegian photographer based in Oslo. Alongside personal projects, Sanne works on commission primarily in news, editorial documentary and portraiture for the Norwegian Newspapers Verdens Gang and Adresseavisen.
Sanne holds a bachelor’s degree in Photojournalism from Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences [HiOA].
The denied people 7/10: Sixteen-year-old Arjedar at the end of her wedding day.
How did you become interested in photography?
When I was young a photographer named Rune Petter Ness moved into the house next door of my Grandparents. I spent Sundays eating dinner at his house, listening to his experiences working for the Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen. He told about everything from funerals, surgery to portraying famous people. He had lots of books about photography and through them I explored photographers like Sebastião Salgado During. He opened my eyes for the world through photography I didn’t know about as a twelve-year-old child. It created a path I have followed ever since that day.
What are some of the most impactful projects you have completed over the years?
All my big projects have been very important for me. If I’m going to work with something during a long period of time I need to have passion for it. My teacher at Pathshala School of photography told me ”a story must come from within”. For me this means that you need to find the motivation inside yourself. If you don’t feel anything about the things you’re doing, the way you convey the message is loosing it’s power.
Another factor that’s affecting me is the support from my surroundings like honour, recognition and money. When I find an idea I rely on my feelings. It’s always the feelings that push me forward, and keep me going when I feel I can’t take it anymore.
The story about the Rohingya-refugees in Myanmar is a cruel and sad one. This is what makes it so important to tell, because the world needs too see. The Rohingya-people can’t continue living like this.
One day when I was leaving the camp I came across a wedding. I thought this was the moment I would have the opportunity to experience a rare moment filled with joy. When I asked where the bride was, the groom brought me inside a small house made of bamboo. It was dark, but in the corner I saw a silhouette of a little girl. People told she was 16, but it looked like she was 12. I tried to say something to her. She was sad –but didn’t cry. It felt like she had disappeared into herself. I caught myself thinking; would this girl ever be happy? It’s been three years since I met her, but I can’t get her out of my head.
How did you decide to work with this conflict, and what did you go through mentally?
I spent two months in Myanmar. I went there the last semester I studied photojournalism at HiOA. Somehow I never imagined going to a place like this, covering conflict zones and areas of famine. Maybe I have seen too many of the stereotype pictures? When I did my research I came pass the story of the Rohingyas, and felt a lot of energy and anger. When I read about other topics, my mind constantly drifted back to this story.
I went to Sittwe, a place a lot of tourists also are visiting. Just a couple of kilometres away you find the Internally Displaced Person camps [IDP-camps] where the Rohinyas live. They have to stay there because their houses were burned to the ground. The Rakhine who’s behind the attacks are also the people who own everything in Sittwe, including the hotels and restaurants. This made it challenging to be a photojournalist living here, because they know we are covering the story of the Rohinyas. At the same time I stayed there a camera crew form Malaysian NGO were attacked in their room in the middle of the night, beaten with large sticks.
It had a huge impact on me meeting the people there. The meetings with the children were especially strong. One boy had a huge scar on his stomach after being stabbed with a knife another little girl really struggled with a motor skills disorder after being thrown into a fire just a couple of days old. Some people meant I was sent by Allah, and I think it really helped me to be there as a photojournalist because you are forced to focus. I also think my anger protected me from a breakdown. I’m still feeling the anger when I think about it today.
The denied people 3/10: After the first wave of violence in 2012, president Thein Sein stated that Myanmar would not take responsibility for the Rohingya. Accused of being illegal immigrants, they lost their recognition as an ethnic group in the country. The president’s solution for the displaced Rohingya was to send them to a third country or put them in temporary camps. Ten camps on the outskirts of Sittwe were quickly built.
I find inspiration everywhere. Just walking on the street or going to a museum starts a process in my brain. Other photographers also have a huge impact; Eugene Richards, Sarker Protick, Lars Tunbjørk and Duane Michals to mention some.
My visual approach is changing in regards to the projects. When you take pictures of an over crowded refugee camp it’s a different feeling compared to an underpopulated island. When I want to convey the feeling, I need to find the right approach. It’s important that my style is not changing the story, but to choose the style that fits for the story.
What my pictures have in common it’s how they’re influenced by my feelings. I trust my gut when I shoot a story and do the editing. A good picture also needs to trigger the feelings of the audience. You obviously need to some logic and reflection, but the feelings and emotions are the main part.
The denied people 4/10: The cracks are small, but if you push your head hard enough against the bamboo wall, you could get a glimpse of Psy dancing across the cinema’s projector screen as he sings “Gangnam Style”.
How does the people you meet and their stories influence you as a person and photographer?
All the stories and people are influencing me. Some have a huge impact, but it’s also important to remember I’m there to tell their stories. I still keep in touch with a lot of the people I captured on my pictures. Some became my friends.
BBC news (13. November 2016) Myanmar army fires on Rohingya villages in Rakhine region. Visited on 3. April 2017
Chia J. (05 March, 2016) The Truth About Myanmar’s Rohingya Issue. Visited on 3. April 2017
Sanne T.A. (2017) About. Visited on 2. April 2017
Sanne T.A. (2014) The Denied People. Visited on 2. April 2017