Isobel Budler – Bridges Not Walls

In January last year, when I was given the task of planning an RS-themed conference for Sixth Form, I wasn’t entirely sure of the slant I wanted to give it.

Five days later, Donald Trump announced his ‘Muslim ban’ on foreign nationals entering America and his plans to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. I found myself on a local Leeds demonstration that linked with an international day of action as part of the ‘Bridges not Walls’ movement; the focus for my conference became immediately clear.

 We are a Sixth Form that is located in a mainly white, rather parochial, town but with students who travel to us from the cities of Halifax and Bradford. The ethnic makeup of these students is diverse. In addition to this, Halifax is a place where refugees and asylum seekers are sent to settle.

The focus of the Bridges not Walls Conference is to build those very important ‘bridges’ in the experiences of our young people. I want our students to leave the day with an increased understanding of the world around them as well as the experiences of the people in it.

 The sessions we plan to deliver are: ‘Dispelling the Myths about Muslims’, ‘The Wall: Jerusalem and Bethlehem,’ ‘Refugees in Britain: tales from the front line at St Augustine’s Centre in Halifax’ and ‘Children of Calais.’

The people who deliver these sessions come from a variety of experiences and belief systems; they are teachers of diverse faiths and of no particular faith system, people who have travelled the Middle East, workers who support local refugees and asylum seekers, and campaigners. Their commonality is that they are all working toward a Britain of tolerance and increased understanding. Key to this is the youth; in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, ‘The future depends on what you do today.’ I want the youth to dream big and dream beautiful, to look beyond their own lives and to look to help, and understand, the lives of others. And above all, to act.Nancy, Conference Organiser for the Bridges Not Wall project.

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She is currently in her in my second year, studying Photography at Edinburgh College of Art.  She tends to gravitate towards subject matters that challenge hegemonic constructs in society, from patriarchy, capitalism or challenging stereotypes. Her approach tends to be looking at peoples personal experiences that help enlighten me and my audience.

For Isobel the project was about challenging Islamaphobia in western cultures and to use her art form as an outlet for the amazing, inspiring work Sajeda, Sumayya and Waseem do in their community.

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Tell us about your project ‘Bridges Not Walls’
This project started by looking widely at Religion before coming into contact with the conference organiser of ‘Bridges Not Walls’. I then met Sajeda and Sumayya; two muslim women and teachers who will be leading the ‘Dispelling the Myths about Muslims’ talk. They are both  very active in their community at challenging stereo types attached to Islam; they asked me to photograph a conference they hold called ‘Bridges Not Walls’ at their high school. Whilst the conference that I will be photographing won’t be held for a few weeks, I was also able to photograph the last meeting they held regarding their talk. Using a medium format film camera, I took snapshots hoping to capture the passion they have towards challenging stereo types. I see my photography series as a good outlet for the amazing work they do locally while also educating myself and the viewers on Islam.
How did you approach challenging Islamaphobia in western cultures within your work?
My approach to this project was to reflect the subjects views through my project. As a non-muslim woman, I was careful not to reflect my own opinions as they don’t have a place in this particular project. I met both of the women leading the talk multiple times, in both casual and formal settings. The first time we had a conversation with them at their houses; this helped build a rapport before then speaking to them in a less relaxed setting. This helped me gather an understanding of the work they do to challenge Islamapohia in western cultures, so I could truthfully reflect their views.
What did you hope to gain from this project in terms of helping the community, awareness etc.
My hope throughout this project is that I would finish it feeling enlightened and that I have enlightened others. I came into this project knowing very little about religion in general, I now feel more educated. Furthermore, in our current climate the Muslim community is marginalised and islamaphobia is increasing. I hope my photographs along with quotes and a statement make the audience more aware of the change these local muslim communities are making and inspire them to also challenge how our society views the Islamic faith.
What do you think the importance of recording these issues through photography is?
For me, photography is an amazing outlet, it can capture a range of emotions through how a subject is presented. An audience can instantly feel connected to a photograph and the message it is conveying, therefore the power of the message is extremely important. It changes the viewers mindset, an example of this is Nick Ut who photographed children running during the Vietnam war in 1972. His work is titled ‘The Terror of War’ and it changed how the whole world saw the Vietnam war. It showed that the war was doing more harm than good. I think the impact his work had on the world is inspiring.
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What aspects did you find most enjoyable from the project? 

This project was extremely enjoyable for me, there were loads of aspects that I found excitement and passion in. Speaking to ordinary people about their personal experiences has always been a focus of my work, in past and current projects. Furthermore educating myself on religion is something I’ve found a lot of enjoyment in, it is a subject I lacked knowledge in previously however now feel confident in.

How do you make people feel a connection? Or is this down to the viewer?

I believe this entirely down to the viewer to feel a connection. All I can do is create work I am proud of and makes me feel inspired, however the connection cannot be forced.

How did you approach translating/ capturing these ‘personalities’ of these people into a photograph?

I think its important to first build a rapport with the subject. Despite not knowing the subjects prior to the project, after multiple interviews and shoots I can honestly say they are now friends of mine. Building this rapport and not treating them as a ‘job’ or something that you are forced to do to get a grade is extremely important.
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Instagram – @eizzibubler

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