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  • Love in the midst of crisis: Nikon Ambassador, Pieter Ten Hoopen, uncovers stories of loved ones caught in the middle of global refugee crisis

  • Nikon Ambassador Pieter ten Hoopen’s work is often personal, having spent most of his career covering diverse humanitarian crises and exploring the living conditions of minorities – hugely challenging subjects.

    Yet, when working on his latest project with Nikon Europe, Pieter decided to take a different angle, exploring the positives that can still be found in challenging situations.

    ‘Love Stories’ takes us to Turkey and Mexico, where Pieter documents the stories of love and strength from couples and families impacted by today’s global refugee crisis.

    Nikon D850 | 1/160 sec | f/3.5 28mm | ISO 125| AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.4E ED
    A father and his son sleep after a long day of walking in the city of Juchitán. The local authorities have gathered the whole migrant caravan in a former bus terminal just outside the city. They want the caravan to be in one place, keeping people together and also protecting them from any forms of danger. The migrants are an easy victim for human trafficking or kidnappings for local gangs. Toilets and showers have been set up for the migrants while they stay at the bus terminal. Thousands of people live together in this small spot. Oaxaca, Juchitán, Oaxaca, Mexico.


    Overcoming stereotypes and stigmas

    “Be it for environmental, political, economic or cultural reasons, there are more refugees displaced now than ever before. In fact, there are 68.5 million people worldwide who have been forced to flee their home and, among them, nearly 25.4 million are refugees.

    “The refugee crisis has been widely publicised in recent years but, as per these stats, people often just become numbers, facts and figures. For this project, I was keen to look at things in a different way, challenging my own photography style but, more importantly, the global stigmas and stereotypes associated with refugees.”

    Nikon D850 | 1/320 sec | f/7.1 28mm | ISO 125| AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.4E ED
    About 30 km from the town Tapanatepec, migrants who have been resting underneath a bridge during one of the daily walks run towards a truck that stops to give them a ride. Many manage to get rides during the day when they travel from one city to another. Locals, truck drivers and sometimes bus drivers often help migrants to reach the next city.


    Seeking refuge

    Pieter’s project took him to Istanbul in Turkey – one of the main hubs for refugees who have fled Syria. His second location was Mexico, where many people from Central America head towards the US-Mexico border, fleeing poverty, violence, political repression and problems associated to climate change.

    “I cannot stress enough the importance of research ahead of projects like this – you need to be prepared. Before my trip, I thought carefully about the locations I wanted to visit and why, and then contacted local people and fixers on the ground who could help me.”

    From photographing persecuted couples from opposing gangs, to capturing parents hoping to secure a safer home for their children, Pieter’s images depict the harsh realities of life as a refugee, but also the way that affection and human relationships remain vital.

    “These people are leaving their homes and their lives behind because they have no other option. The alternative to stay is just too dangerous. Yet love was the recurring theme across every story. Listening to the way these couples spoke about each other, and with each other, was incredibly moving, and something I will always remember.”

    Nikon D850 | 1/4000 sec | f/1.4 28mm | ISO 250| AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.4E ED
    After many days of travelling, the migrant caravan is resting in the city of Tapanatepec. Families gather beside the river banks of the Rio Novillero to bath and wash their clothes, or to relax after long days of travel. Children are playing in the water and many try to catch up on sleep during the day. The caravan will continue to the next town at 4am. They leave early because of the extreme heat during the daytime.


    The equipment

    Pieter used the D850, for its speed, resolution and light sensitivity to capture intimate stills, along with the new Z 7 mirrorless  camera for filming. To accompany these camera bodies, Pieter relied on the AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.4E ED lens.

    “The D850 is one of my go-to cameras – it’s perfect for shooting stills quickly and responsively, without scarifying quality. Putting the new Z 7 to the test was a new experience for me. The work I do requires lots of walking, running and jumping, and the lightweight Z 7 was brilliant for this.

    “Lens-wise, the AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.4E ED stayed by my side throughout. It is a wide-angle lens which is great for controlling light to capture authentic images. I couldn’t be without it.”

    Nikon D850 | 1/8000 sec | f/1.4 28mm | ISO 2000| AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.4E ED
    Mohammad and Nada both fled the war in Syria, and met each other in Turkey, Istanbul. “I was working in a bookstore,” says Nada. “After some time, Mohammad, who worked in the same store, said hello and we started to have more contact. We fell in love. I started to feel like he was a part of me – a feeling that was incredible.”
    Today, they are married and live in Istanbul, where they plan to build a future together. Nada has started work as a designer. “We are doing a lot of different courses, and have already started our own company. We want to have an open vision, to create and build a life here.”

    Final words

    “I was surprised by how open and freely people talk about love. These people who are living through the hardest of times, something we can barely understand from a Western perspective, rely on love and relationships to help them see an end goal. For them, love is a survival tool – perhaps the most powerful one, and this is something we should all remember and cherish.”

    To find out more about Pieter’s project, please visit:  


    Photography equipment: