Muhammed Muheisen

In a refugee camp north of Athens, a young refugee girl sleeps outside under a mosquito net to escape the heat in her family's tent.

"I spent several years in Pakistan documenting the daily life and challenges faced by refugees and internally displaced people," says Canon Ambassador Muhammed Muheisen. "When a vendor selling bubbles stood on a roadside near a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad, children started chasing these bubbles. Out of the blue, this young Afghan refugee, Zawar Khan, jumped in front of my lens to catch a bubble". Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM) at 1/1600 sec, f/2 and ISO50. © Muhammed Muheisen

Canon Ambassador Muhammed Muheisen is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist and founder of the Everyday Refugees Foundation. He has been documenting the world's refugee crisis for over a decade under the theme 'a smile in the middle of the rubble'.

Muhammed has seen a great deal pass before his lens. Since 2001 he's photographed major events around the world including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Yemeni revolution, the US-led war in Iraq and the Syrian civil war. He's also documented the funerals of the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the late South African president Nelson Mandela, and the capture of the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. 

His work has resulted in many international awards: in both 2005 and 2013, for example, he and his teams won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for their work in Iraq and Syria. Also in 2013, Time Magazine named him the year's Best Wire Photographer. In 2017, his photograph titled Syria: The Face of a Tormented Childhood was awarded the UNICEF Photo of the Year and the Emerging Person in Photography Special Award by the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award.

Muhammed's work takes place across a global stage, capturing the individual stories of people caught up in large-scale events. Yet the path towards this international career began in the simplest way possible. "I fell in love with photography at an early age, after experiencing the magic of this tool," Muhammed says. "When you press a button, an exact moment of that scene gets captured on a piece of paper that we carry with us all our lives."

A Jordanian national who was born in Jerusalem in 1981, Muhammed responded to the conflict he saw around him. "I decided to study journalism and political science to combine my passion with my education, and to aim to be a good storyteller about people, their daily lives and their struggles. There is no better way to tell a story than to be part of it."

Canon Ambassador Muhammed Muheisen.

Location: Jordan, Greece, The Netherlands
Specialist areas: Photojournalism
Favourite kit: 
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
In a refugee camp north of Athens, a young refugee girl sleeps outside under a mosquito net to escape the heat in her family's tent.

"Since May 2018 I have been in Greece, documenting the daily life of refugees settling in the country," reports Muhammed. "In one of the camps north of the Greek capital, Anna Rahmoni, a 21-month-old Afghan refugee was sleeping outside under a mosquito net to escape the heat trapped inside her family's tent." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/1.4 and ISO50. © Muhammed Muheisen

A six-year-old Afghan refugee near her family's mud home on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan.

"This is Laiba Hazrat, a six-year-old Afghan refugee whom I portrayed in 2014 near her family's mud home on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan," says Muhammed. "I have seen Laiba and many other Afghan refugee children growing up in front of my lens and I wanted to introduce these children to the world by their names, ages, hopes and dreams, and let them be remembered by their names not just by the phrase 'Afghan refugees'." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/640 sec, f/1.2 and ISO50. © Muhammed Muheisen

That's a philosophy Muhammed has brought with him throughout his career – and especially since 2015, when he founded the Everyday Refugees Foundation. "We help refugees and people displaced by war, poverty, natural disasters and discrimination in different parts of the world, and I am proud of that," he says.

Muhammed's work mostly focuses on the refugee crisis, and in particular places a spotlight on refugee children, who can often find themselves unaccompanied and in a strange land. "In most of my photography I find myself focusing on children, as I believe that children are the real victims of conflicts," he says. "Children all over the world share the same things in common: they seek fun, joy and happiness. Children do not get to choose where they are born or the circumstances surrounding them. These images become their voice to the outside world."

Muhammed has successfully combined his love of photography with his abiding interest in people. He is an example of someone who takes photography beyond a career until it becomes a way of life. "At a certain point in my career I completely followed my passion, which is photography," he says. "Through photography I aim to help the people I photograph."

The ancient city of Petra in Jordan.

"I get a nostalgic feeling every time I visit the ancient city of Petra in Jordan; it's a scene from the past and the present in one magical place," says Muhammed. "As a photographer, every time I step foot in this ancient city, it feels like the first time – a moment from the past captured in the present." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/5000 sec, f/1.4 and ISO50. © Muhammed Muheisen

What is your approach to composing your photographs?

"I usually invest to learn about the people and the environment then I spend time in this environment to become invisible – part of the landscape – and to gain people's trust. After achieving that I look for the moments we pass by every day, that tell stories of the people. That's the quality that I aim to achieve in my photography, which needs passion, patience and commitment."


Who are your biggest photographic influences, and why?

"Sir Don McCullin's photography has always been an inspiration for me. He told many untold stories, portraying people with pride and always followed the human side of any conflict. An example of a great human and photographer."


What is your role within Everyday Refugees Foundation?

"I founded Everyday Refugees Foundation to tell stories, to share them with the world and to help to people who were forced to leave everything behind in search of a safe home. There is no better way than photography to do that."


How did your participation within Everyday Refugees Foundation begin?

"After years of travelling the world documenting stories of the people, I realised that through my craft I could spread awareness and change stereotypes."


Your role as a photographer lets you observe situations from many different perspectives. Would you say you feel optimistic or pessimistic?

"I always feel optimistic, and you can see that in my images through the theme of my photography: 'a smile in the middle of the rubble'. In my images there is always a sign of hope, and this hope is the way I see the world. There is no better way to show this hope than through my camera."

One thing I know

Muhammed Muheisen

"Photography is a very powerful tool to create an echo that makes a difference. It is my passion. I simply capture images with my eyes and heart, let the camera document that moment, and share it with the world. My advice to every passionate photographer is to use this craft towards a good cause. It is never just a picture, it is a voice, it is a testimony, and it is a message that lives forever."

Facebook: Muhammed Muheisen

Instagram: @mmuheisen

Twitter: @muheisen81


Muhammed Muheisen's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Muhammed Muheisen's kitbag, containing Canon cameras and lenses.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Designed to perform in every situation, this camera is a beautifully engineered all-rounder, able to capture every nuance, every colour and every detail.


Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM

With an f/1.4 maximum aperture and an 84° angle of view, this lens is the ultimate in fast aperture wide-angle lenses. "I always prefer to be close to my subjects," says Muhammed.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

With an incredible f/1.2 maximum aperture, this lens is a consummate low-light performer that allows for fine creative control over focusing and depth of field. "With the 50mm, I can portray people and show their lives through their eyes and skin," says Muhammed.

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