I was lucky enough to be gifted a response pack from one of my last projects undertaken as part of my course that is incredibly relevant to the topic of this module.
The pack is quite large so I have split my use of its resources into several different posts because this allows me to look in depth at it a bit more.
The response pack is all about refugees and the migrant crisis. The pack contains images on postcards with information on the back, a newspaper style portfolio, and a signed image by the photographer. The pack is beautifully set out with some hard hitting images and stories that I felt were incredibly relevant to the project and topic of migration we are looking at. In this blog post, I am going to be looking at the postcards and the images on them. As part of the module, research is important in understanding your subject and the topic at hand because without this you have no knowledge of how someone feels or the struggles they have been through. The work I have to look at is a full project undertaken by a photographer that has looked into the lives of some of the most vulnerable people and tells their stories. The image I find beautiful personally, but the stories are also interesting. The photographer has obviously developed a sense of trust with his subjects and has been careful when asking questions about their lives as they understand it is a clearly vulnerable topic for them.
I have selected a few of the postcards that I was really interested in and have also photographed some of the text that appears on the back of each image. Each postcard has an image and then a backstory on the back to give you an idea of what is going on in the image or who you are looking at, as well as what their story is.
All the photographs are in black and white, with very strong lighting and attention to detail.
I absolutely love this image. My reasons for this are the fact that it is for me, technically so strong. The use of lighting and tonality within the composure of the subject is so fantastic. However, whether or not intentional, the image reminds me very much of the war between Britain and Germany due to the aesthetic of the barbed wire and the fact there is someone stuck behind it, not by their own free will. Whether this was intentional or not, it provokes some strong ideas surrounding imagery of this kind and in my personal opinion adds a layer of urgency to the refugee and migrant crisis as the war was an experience no one wishes to repeat, yet here it is happening in a different way.
The photograph has been shot from below the subject giving them a sense of presence. The subject is not looking at the camera though, and is instead looking away into the distance. A semiotic reading of this could portray that they are trying to look out onto a better future where they aren’t trapped behind barbed wire or stuck in this ‘no mans land’. The way the barbed wire lands across the forehead of the man, Karzan, is very symbolic of the way Jesus had a crown of thorns, yet it was at the end Jesus’ action and his choices ultimately defined him.
This is the back of the postcard above which explains Karzan’s story and how he desperately wanted to be able to look after his family but felt the humiliation of being a refugee and existing in this ‘no man’s land’. He felt stripped of his identity and is faced with so much adversity on a daily basis. The strong message from the image is expressed at the end of the postcard saying ‘Karzan [is] determined to overcome the obstacles they face and shape [his] own destiny. In another context theirs might be told as an inspirational [story] of triumph over adversity.’
I wanted to draw attention to the fact that despite all the hatred and bad experiences Karzan has gone through, he was still willing to share his story to highlight the awful happenings in the world and the ways in which normal people, the same as me and you, are suffering through such traumatic and awful experiences for no reason other than the fact that others wants to control them and humiliate people for no reason or motivation other than they simply can. The fact that Karzan is now trying to make the most of his life, shows the turn around of events and shows that there is often light at the end of the tunnel for refugees, although it is few and far between and is definitely not the same story for everyone.
This postcard intrigued me because of the archival properties it carries in the image within an image. I was also intrigued by the sobriety of the group portrait that is then changed into a more candid image that makes you smile when you notice the small head poking out of the door on the left hand side of the image. The inclusion of the family group n what is potentially there home gives this sense of unity, but the photograph the woman is holding is clearly a dear part of her and the family she may be missing.
The image is strong with plenty of highlights and shadows. The black and white tonality requires us to focus purely on the subjects although it does give a quite sense of aesthetic beauty to the image. The woman is placed directly in the middle of the frame and is surrounded by what we assume are members of her family. She clearly cares a lot about the welfare of her family and wants them to all be together. As far as her refugee story, we can assume there is one of some type because of the fact she is not with a husband or a man and she is also holding an image of some people, clearly important to her. The back of the postcard gives us more context on the topic.
When reading the back of the card and looking back at the image again, it really is quite sombre. A mother longing for her children whilst having to raise those she still has without the aid of their father. She has been through a traumatic event but has been forced to be strong for her family. Loosing her husband in such a horrific way is a daily reminder that these people are coming over from countries where they cannot live and are in danger, yet some many people are unwilling to help them as see them as a nuisance rather than as humans who just want the same quality of life as anyone else would. A reason I love these postcards so much are because they highlight such simple stories, but stories that need to be told. The photographer has clearly not probed too far beyond what is deemed respectable but the information he has given us is so key in understanding what life is like for people who are fleeing war torn countries and places where they don’t feel safe enough to live. It is so important these stories are told because there are often such negative representation in the media which are often not true of the vast majority of people seeking help and shelter.
This portrait does not come with a story or a narrative, but I felt the image was so strong compositionally that it would be crazy to not talk about. The image is a portrait of a woman, dressed in a way appropriate to her culture and her beliefs. She stands strong and looks beautiful, looking directly into the camera as if to say ‘this is who I am and this is what I can do.’ More so she is saying she has battled through her struggles as a migrant or a refugee and is beginning to realign her identity. Who is she and who she will become are all parts of the image that begin to speak to us when we look at it. I was initially struck by how strong she stood and how willing she was to be presented as this strong figure. Although this is something we often forget: refugees although they appear weak and vulnerable at some points, they can often be some of the strongest people because of what they have gone through to get where they are. Although not everyone will be willing to talk about their ordeals, it is important to note that each individual is strong for getting to where they are and their coping mechanisms are all different. However it is so important to highlight these stories straight from the sources because they are often stories that are overlooked by mass media representation.
These are just a select few of many postcards that were in the pack, all part of the aim to get more people aware of the different situations and scenarios that people are forced into, not by their own choices.
Migration and the refugee crisis is such an important issue that we have to address as a nation as well as individuals. I love the way in which this project has been presented and I feel it highlights individual stories and links them together in a way that is so cohesive and interesting. All the images have a similar photographic style that links them together and ties the stories to become one unit. Personally as just one section of a project, I think it works so well already and I think as a resource it can be unparalleled in the amount of detail and time invested to show and tell these stories of vulnerable people in the most considerate and thoughtful way possible.
It’s a fantastic resource with so much potential to take from it, especially in terms of narrative direction and how to pull a story together with text and photographs.