30,000 men, women and children from Sudan’s Blue Nile State sought an end to nine months of terror and trauma when they crossed the border into neighboring South Sudan. They joined a population of 70,000 refugees who preceded them in fleeing Khartoum’s deadly military campaign to crush the northern remnant of the southern liberation movement. The incredible array of worn-down, ill-fitting and jerry-rigged shoes form a silent testimony to the arduous nature of their journey, as well as the persistence and ingenuity of the individuals who survived it.—Shannon Jensen
London-based Shannon Jensen photographed the remains of Sudanese refugees’ worn and tattered shoes in A Long Walk. The series is a simple but profound indicator of the difficult journey where thousands fled extreme war and violence. Documenting the event, Jensen felt it was important to capture the struggle of these people in a compelling, empathetic way distinctive from the multitude of refugee imagery. It was when she came across a photo she had taken of a family holding their crumbling shoes that inspiration struck. For Jensen, chronicling these shoes became a universal, relatable symbol of the harrowing pilgrimage made across the Sudan.
Although various aid workers out in the field were confused at Jensen’s new focus, the refugees quickly understood her purpose. Men, women and children lined up to have their shoes photographed, grasping the profound and silent testimony of the symbol. Many had never left their villages until the fighting broke out, and Jensen found herself in the middle of a deeply personal experience. The photographer even had a refugee woman name her newborn daughter after her.
A Long Walk illustrates the violent and treacherous paths these individuals had to take, each pair of soles threadbare with the endless days spent struggling toward a new life. “Representing a journey in an image,” Jensen transports us literally into refugee shoes and lives, the never-ending horizon filled with a mixture of promise and fear. A Long Walk symbolizes not only where these Sudanese have been, but also the determination with which they kept going.