The portrait is central to Fazal Sheikh’s work. For more than two decades, as he has worked in different communities around the world, the invitation to sit for a portrait has been the principal means by which he has established a link with his subjects and been allowed to enter and document their lives. Often these have been people in crisis: displaced from their homes and their countries, at risk from violence, poverty and prejudice.
This book takes in the full range of Fazal Sheikh’s work, from his earliest portraits taken in African refugee camps, through long-term projects in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan, Somalia and Kenya, to more recent work in South America and in India. It considers the role of the portrait within this kind of social enquiry: the balance of its aesthetic and narrative qualities, its capacity for empathy and also for distance; the values of the collaborative portrait, and the moral ambivalence that surrounds this approach to documenting the lives of disadvantaged people within the context of contemporary art.