Fernando Moleres was born in Bilbao, Spain, in 1963. He is a self-taught photographer who discovered photography while traveling and doing volunteer work as an activist, laborer, and medical nurse in Nicaragua.
Moleres has produced multiple reports on pressing social issues, such as refugees in Kurdistan and sub-Saharan Africa, and juveniles in African prisons. His books include Children at Work, published in 2000, which focuses on the systematic exploitation of child labor in more than 30 countries. Another publication, Men of God, explores monastic life.
Moleres received the World Press Photo Award in 1997 (series, daily life) and 2002 (series, art). In 2011, he won the World Press Photo Award daily life series again with Juveniles in Prison. In 1999 and 2011, Moleres won second prize and was a finalist, respectively, for the W. Eugene Smith Grant for Humanistic Photography. He won the World Press/Human Rights Watch Tim Hetherington Grant in 2012 for documenting prison conditions in Sierra Leone. His photographs have appeared in numerous publications including Courrier International, El Pais, Figaro, The Independent, Le Monde, Stern, and Time. Moleres’s work was exhibited at Visa pour L’Image International Festival of Photojournalism in 2000 and 2011. He is represented by laif, LUZ photo, and Panos Pictures.
Papillon, Henri Charriere’s memoir describing prison life in colonial French Guiana, was one of the first books I chose to read on my own. I was riveted by its description of injustice but above all, how it spoke of people’s yearning for freedom.
My interest in injustice has also been fueled by direct personal experience. In the 1980s, I protested in Spain to support Basque independence. I traveled to Nicaragua in 1987 to help with the coffee harvest and serve as a nurse. There, I discovered photography as a valuable tool for creating dialogue about the injustices and struggles I encountered.
Lizzie Sadin’s 2007 photographic exhibition at the Visa pour l’Image festival in Perpignan, France, on incarcerated minors in Madagascar turned my attention to the horrible situation faced by juveniles detained in African prisons. Reports I read had few images to convey the grim conditions they described. I became determined to produce photography clearly depicting the conditions faced by minors in the Pademba Road Prison in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
When I arrived, the prison held 1,300 prisoners living in terrible conditions. Many of them spend years awaiting trial. There is no legal assistance to help them pursue their release. Hygiene is non-existent and food and water are scarce. Prison life is a struggle for survival, with adult prisoners often torturing and beating juvenile inmates.
My Sierra Leone prison photography has been published in the European press, but I feel that the story has not exposed a broad audience to this tragedy. I continue to think about people like 14-year-old Mohamed Conteh, a street orphan accused of possessing a small quantity of marijuana. The police denied Mohamed food for four days while he was in custody and demanded 30,000 leones (7.5 euros), which he did not have. After several months in prison awaiting trial, he was convicted and sentenced to either three years in jail or a fine of 100,000 leones (25 euros).
I have tried to build upon the awareness my images can generate by creating the Free Minor Africa initiative in 2012. The initiative offers legal aid, bail payments, and rehabilitation to those incarcerated for minor offenses. It also collaborates with the Saint Michael Center to provide shelter and education for juveniles who have served their sentences but have no family and few resources to help them reintegrate into society.
—Fernando Moleres, April 2013