30 / 06 / 2023Marina Amaral

The Colour of Flight, by Marina Amaral & UNHCR

As a communicator at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, I’m always looking for fresh ways to share the stories of people fleeing conflict and persecution.

With 100 million people now forcibly displaced, we need these stories to awaken us to the humanity behind the statistics.

When I came across Marina’s work, first on Twitter and then through her website and books, I realized that color can do this too – often sparking stronger emotional responses than an image in monochrome.

Don’t get me wrong: I love black-and-white photography. But I found Marina’s palette pulling me in, helping me see each subject in a new light. I was looking longer and more intently, wondering more deeply about the people they portrayed, imagining the lives they lived.

And so I approached her about working on some images from UNHCR’s photographic archive, which dates back more than 70 years. The range of photos we chose, spanning multiple continents and decades, reflects our theme for World Refugee Day (June 20): Everyone has the right to seek safety – whoever they are, wherever they come from, whenever they are forced to flee.

Each time more images from Marina landed in my inbox, I would lose myself in them, spotting details I had overlooked before, connecting more closely with the stories they held. But don’t take it from me.

You can see the results here, in a photo essay we’re calling The Colour of Flight.

My personal favorite is the image of five boys on a Buenos Aires street-corner in 1983. I’m one of five brothers myself, so it’s a tableau I can readily identify with. It wasn’t just the composition that spoke to me, though; I was intrigued by the confidence of the boy in the foreground, the karate kid. I wanted to know his story.

I tried to track down the photographer, listed in our records only as “A. Cherep”. Some creative googling suggested it was an Argentinian photojournalist named Alejandro Cherep. I found his daughter in Spain and, through Twitter DMs, she told me about her father’s career and her family’s deep commitment to refugees. Alejandro passed away in 2017, she said, but she was thrilled to hear about the colorization project with Marina.

Simultaneously I was searching for the five boys. One day I learned about a scholar, Chia Youyee Vang, who had been researching the resettlement of refugees from Southeast Asia to Latin America. As a child, she too had been a refugee from Laos. Now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, she had conducted field work in Argentina, interviewing Laotian refugees. I emailed to see if she could help.

Within a week, Dr. Vang’s friend in Argentina had found the karate kid, whose name is Kykeo Kabsuvan, and his brother Dan. They in turn got in touch with their three childhood friends. None of them had never seen the photo before, and laughed hysterically upon seeing their younger selves.

As fate would have it, Kykeo is now working as a fitness instructor and karate teacher – and he was willing to tell his story. You can read and watch it here.

Working with Marina on this project has shown me that old photographs don’t just tell us about the past. They can also be a window that opens into the present.


Guest post by Christopher Reardon
Head of Global Communications Desk
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency