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Allan Mestel Uses Photography to Connect Sarasota to Conflict Around the World

"My images will always be available to anyone to represent the truth.” 

By Kim Doleatto January 1, 2024 Published in the January/February 2024 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Allan Mestel

Allan Mestel

Image: Allan Mestel

 In an industry  in which aesthetics often take precedence, photographer Allan Mestel dares to think differently. Following years of commercial work, he turned his lens from glossy ad campaigns to photojournalism. Capturing grief, loss, destruction and hope, Mestel’s striking pictures tell the untold stories that a million words can’t. Often shot in the midst of conflict and violence, they serve as a lasting visual record of the truth.

After moving to Sarasota from Toronto, Canada, in 2014, the photographer, now 60, developed a style that he descibes as “creating an encounter experience for the viewer.” He says that as he and his family settled into life in Southwest Florida, 2015 and 2016 “brought a lot of upheaval and people who felt strongly about issues and took to the streets.” He soon became involved with nonprofits and focused his energies on activism. Mestel shot politically charged street protests and rallies, often for gratis, but it paid off—not only was it fulfilling, his work was picked up by larger media outlets like CNN and NBC.

While based in Sarasota, Mestel has a global perspective. He has traveled to Matamoros, Mexico, where thousands of refugees are refused entry into the United States and live in makeshift camps where they wait, sometimes for years, for hearings in the tent courts of Brownsville, Texas. He has also captured images of migrant children separated from their parents in the largest detention center in the U.S. in Homestead, Florida, and he photographed the aftermath of the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in 2022. Three trips to Ukraine revealed images of people fleeing to safety in Poland, along with depictions of destruction and hopelessness, as well as resolution and resilience.

The aim of undertaking such dangerous journeys, Mestel says, is to “bring the viewer to see an individual going through an event that brought them to a place they never dreamed they’d be. It’s easy to judge from afar, so it’s necessary to connect with human suffering created by human action on a more visceral level. If the viewer can perceive the consequences of inflicting suffering, maybe they can be more motivated to do something about it. I want to break a shell of isolation that says, ‘That’s their problem, not ours.’”

He continues, “We’re all responsible for reacting to suffering, no matter where it is, and to be vocal in our communities and try to effect change to alleviate it. I can’t do it with one picture, but I do believe in the power of imagery.”

His photographs also establish a historical record. “I can create a permanent visual record that’s an undeniable counter-narrative to misinformation,” he says. “I’m proud to be able to do that, and my images will always be available to anyone to represent the truth.” 

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