The Photo of Omayra Sanchez

For this project students from minerva collaborated with World Press Photo Groningen. Our goal was to research a past WPP winner and highlight a hidden meaning or lost message, and in the end we would respond in our own way to the things we found. We were part of the supplement exhibition of world press photo groningen in the Synagoge. And our response was exhibited in the unfixing histories.

For this project I researched the story behind Omayra Sanchez, the girl on winning photo of  1986 by Frank Fournier. I picked her photo because on one hand there was already a lot of research done, it had sparked quite the controversy and her story really spoke to me.

I started with recreating the photo while adding my own narrative.
To do so I made a little doll head version of Omayra out of polymer clay. I have to say it was quite strange and intimate to create a rough likeness of a girl I’d never met and who died under such terrible circumstances.


I also created a backdrop filled with water and debris. I used the same film Frank Fournier did, but ultimately went with capturing the whole thing digitally because it gave me more freedom in post and I could immediately see the results of the pictures I took.

One of the photos was edited to highlight something I found in my own research. And the result was shown in the World Press Photo Groningen exhibition at the Synagoge.

I had found a film fragment in which Omayra asks to not have her picture taken. I think in the end Frank did have her permission but near her death she was mostly delirious through hypothermia. Still, I found it confliciting that a photo of a little girl who didn’t want to be photographed was celebrated and is now known all over the world. And nobody talks about it. Within all the controversy I haven’t seen anyone mention that it may have been wrong to take her picture, because she didn’t want it to.

By adding a photo frame (highlighting an image similar to the original photo, but still leaving the background of my little setup visible) and a transcript of her own words, I was able to show a little bit of unknown history about the original photo and sparked conversation.

This work was also exhibited as part of a collage at the Old Groninger Museum on a student only exhibition of the work we did outside of the regular scheduled classes.

After the exhibitions we continued to work with the same photo, this time making our own work that is heavily inspired by the original photo.

I wanted to play on emotions. To do that I created an animation of eyes, that go from bright and colourful to deep dark red and black, with the voice of omayra as a reminder of her words ‘please don’t photograph me’ it was displayed on a continious loop at the unfixing histories exhibition that spanned several locations. My work was displayed at the Old Groninger Museum, projected on a glass railing, with some the doll head and original paintings behind the projection.


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© 2020 Faye Pelsmaeker