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Stories of the South Sudanese

17 November 20150 comments

A photographer’s half a decade long project celebrates and provides insight into the South Sudanese community of Western Sydney.

Conor Ashleigh’s photographs show intimate moments of traditional South Sudanese ceremonies and culturally specific exchanges as well everyday Australian experiences.

The South Sudanese community is celebrated in Conor Ashleigh's photos

The South Sudanese community is celebrated in Conor Ashleigh’s photographs

The project has garnered critical acclaim, having been recently featured in both the online and print edition of The New York Times, as well as The Guardian.

The photographs debuted in June of this year at the AMES Heartlands Photographic exhibition, which showcased the work of four photographers that provided a window into the lives of refugee communities in Australia.

While this was the first time Conor had shown his photographs in a gallery, they had long been a part of personal and professional progression.

In 2004 South Sudanese families began being resettled in Conor’s hometown of Newcastle when he was 16.

A brutal 22-year civil war and struggling independence movement in Sudan forced thousands, many of whom were children, to flee.

As a result, over 19,000 South Sudanese were resettled in Australia between 2002 and 2011.

Conor bonded with the younger sons of the first South Sudanese family in Newcastle over typical teenage boy interests; music and sport.

After six years of friendship, Conor picked up a digital camera and focussed his lens on documentary photography through taking his first photos of his friends and their community.

“I realised my friendships gave me quite a unique access,” Conor told The New York Times.

“These young guys and girls were essentially growing up into adults just like I was, but navigating it differently.”

Five years on and Conor has created a visual plethora of the trials and tribulations of the South Sudanese community; from independence celebrations and traditional weddings to modelling shows and basketball competitions.

His photographs convey the strong bond he has with the community and highlights experiences that he would have shared with them, such as forging their own identities as young adults and finding their place within society.

“This work is a visual homage to people I have seen become young adults and take on adulthood in different but very impressive ways,” Conor said.

His work has been embraced by the community and he is lovingly referred to by them as “Khawaja Conor” (khawaja is the Sudanese term for foreigner).

Today approximately 30,000 South Sudanese live in Sydney and Melbourne.

To view some of Conor’s images visit:



Ruby Brown
AMES Australia Staff Writer