Home' Aurora : Aurora June 2011 Contents 8
| Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle | www.mn.catholic.org.au
AS A DOCUMENTARY photographer Conor
Ashleigh's job is to capture and convey
stories of social justice.
"I believe in the power of images to create
change," he says.
This belief has seen him adopt the life
of a nomad, travelling from Cambodia to
India, Papua New Guinea, South Africa,
Timor-Leste (East Timor), Borneo, Egypt,
Uganda, Nepal and Gaza. His home city of
Newcastle recognised his work by naming
him Young Citizen of the Year on Australia
Day this year.
Conor has photographed 12 year old
children working 12 hour days in the brick
kilns of Bhaktapur, in Kathmandu, Nepal
and documented the daily battles of
members of Ishopanthi Ashram, a leprosy
colony in India.
The experiences have taught him what it
means to be "truly human".
"Many of the truly inspiring people... [are]
dedicated to creating change," he says.
"I am trying to stand alongside them."
Conor's passion for social justice was
nurtured by a Catholic upbringing and
ignited at 16 when he worked with children
maimed by landmines in Cambodia.
Two years later he was in India teaching
English and caring for physically disabled
Yet he yearned to create change, seeking
"another outlet to express my passion for
The search ended when Conor befriended a
local Indian documentary photographer and
was introduced to his field of work.
Then he fell ill.
"Perfect timing," he recalls.
"I was bed bound and found myself
becoming increasingly interested in
Three months later, recovered and working
in the Himalayan Tibetan refugee centre
of McLeod Ganj, Conor befriended another
A thousand questions later he was "totally
committed" to "the power of visual modes
of social justice."
However documentary photography requires
not just passion and commitment, but
proficiency with planning too.
Camera lenses have to be clean, batteries
charged and memory cards uncorrupted.
"I have to make sure my visa and passports
Conor's commitment and passion also
means that "down time" (surfing, coffee,
catching up with close friends and family
and spending time in the bush) is just "a
"It's all just part of the territory that goes
with what I'm doing," he says with that
calm acceptance characteristic of surfers.
That territory involves an internal struggle
as Conor acknowledges the damage
Western lifestyles inflict on the environment,
albeit remaining a little materialistic.
"I don't believe by distancing ourselves from
traditional societies we are progressing in
a positive way. The current Western lifestyle
has a lot of learning to do, in regard to
"I'd like to say I'm not materialistic but
I do... indulge myself. My favourite pair
of shorts that I bought from the markets
for five dollars four years ago are ripped,
but I still have enough money to pay for
my smart phone."
He reflects, "Social justice can't exist
without environmental justice."
And while he longs for a home, "a room in
a share house and ...a studio to work out
of," he acknowledges, "I will have to wait a
while" as the world learns to stop looking
and starts to see.
Please visit www.conorashleigh.com
By SIOBHAN MCALARY
This image is from one of Conor's ongoing
projects - 'slipping between the cracks' a
journey into a community of homeless
women who also suffer from varying forms of
mental illness and call Calcutta's empty train
yards behind Sealdah station their home.
Photograph by Conor Ashleigh
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