Photos courtesy of Jon Cox and Tatiana Petrova
November 17, 2023
To Jon Cox, associate professor of art and design at the University of Delaware, photography is a universal language with the potential to create social change and healing.
Cox recently returned from Banská Bystrica, Slovakia, where he spent three weeks as a Fulbright Specialist leading workshops for Ukrainian refugees, members of Roma communities and other displaced people, empowering them to tell their stories through photography.
The project, “Arrivals: What’s Left Behind, What Lies Ahead,” was a partnership with Anna Slatinska, a professor at Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, and UD alumnus Andy Bale, a lecturer of photography at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Slatinska, Bale and Cox conducted PhotoVoice workshops, which prompted participants to take photos related to their experiences.
The PhotoVoice research technique is similar to a writing prompt. Participants were asked questions that they answered through taking photographs, allowing researchers to collect data in a way different from an interview and giving participants an outlet to explore their own emotional reactions and challenges. Prompts included questions like How did it feel to leave your country of origin? How did you feel when you first arrived here? What did you leave behind? and What challenges did you face?
“For so many of the women, the answer to the prompts was, ‘I just want to feel safe. I just want to make sure that when I put my kids to bed at night that they’re alive in the morning,’” Cox said, noting that many of the participants were women and children because many men stayed in Ukraine to serve in the military or are unable to leave the country.
While some of the refugees said they felt lucky to be in Slovakia, others experienced guilt at leaving loved ones behind. For most, their focus was simply staying safe.
“That struck a chord with me — not knowing what your future holds,” Cox said. “And that uncertainty is reflected in the photographs.”