'They're People Not Terrorists' photo campaign challenges prejudices behind U.S. travel ban

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Photographer Adam Zivo's work may be familiar to those aware of his project #LOVEISLOVEISLOVE, which he launched after the Orlando nightclub shooting. It featured tender, happy portraits of LGTBQ couples.

The Toronto-based photographer is now launching, on Friday, a new project in the wake of the U.S. travel ban that targets people from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

"I have friends who fall within the blacklisted nationalities," said Zivo. "When I got a sense of how their lives might be affected… their access to education and economic activities, I felt outraged."

When it was implemented at the end of January, the ban also prohibited everyone who had dual nationalities and visas, as well as green-card holders. The executive order by President Donald Trump caused widespread confusion and chaos. It was temporarily put on hold within days of implementation and as of Feb. 10 , a U.S. Appeals Court has upheld that suspension. However, the situation remains uncertain in the long term.

"I felt that the ban was abhorrent in its totality," Zivo told rabble.ca.

They're People Not Terrorists (TPNT) is meant to be a mini social media campaign in which Zivo will provide seven high-quality photos of seven individuals from the seven affected countries to the public at large. The idea is to caption the photos with phrases such as: "Why am I banned?"

The photos will be available on Zivo's Facebook page -- he would like people to share on the site as well as on their Instagram accounts. Zivo will also create a downloadable Dropbox file of high-resolution photos.

"It's an expression of my belief that people should be judged as individuals and not dismissed because of their social categories," noted the fashion photographer.

Zivo feels images have the power to humanize people immediately.

"The subtleties of a smile, a look of anxiety in someone's eyes, the specific contours of their face disarm us with their familiarity," explained Zivo.


Zivo noted his #LOVEISLOVEISLOVE project reached at least 25,000 viewers and felt it moved people because it "showed a side of queerness that isn't often documented."

He recalls a moment during the nine-day shoot in which one of the project's supporters, Meridian Bank, sent a representative to help.

"August is a cynical guy and not prone to big shows of emotion," said Zivo. But when an older, lesbian couple came, August was altered.

"You could tell from their body language that they shared a kind of love that was tender and unassailable. Old love like that is always inspiring," said Zivo. "August ended up being moved by them…he cried."

While Zivo realizes the photos come without the context of abstract ideas or for that matter, a wider explanation, he believes it can "chip away" at prejudices.

"We make genuine bonds with other people mostly through non-linguistic communication."

He would like the images to be used by any organization beyond their initial purpose -- they are ready-made to counter Islamophobia and other similar issues in society.

"Images do that: they trigger something primal."

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.

Photos by Adam Zivojinovic

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