Leila Alaoui

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“She was fighting to give life to those forgotten by society, to homeless people, to migrants, deploying one weapon: photography.”

I spent, years ago, many pleasant weeks in the capital of Burkina Faso, and have fond memories of the place. Last month’s terrorist attack there was all the more distressing because it took the life of a gifted photographer.

Leila Alaoui’s obituary gave us not only an excellent geography lesson, but the opportunity to discuss the role of photography in human rights. (It also – I’m sure she’ll forgive us – gave us some fun saying “Ouagadougou.”)

The obituary’s opening sentence describes Ms. Alaoui’s work as “hauntingly beautiful.” In her honor, I gave students a homework assignment with neither due date nor grade: to take a photograph whose beauty is haunting. I wish all homework was like this.

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Vocabulary we learned from Ms. Alaoui’s obituary includes internal, migrant, affiliate, sentimentality, dispossessed, chronicle, and lyrical.