I am interested in how images and text are used to explain issues. For example, why is the the issue of refugee and asylum is presented on a daily basis as a ‘spectacle’.
In his detailed study, Ruben Andersson explained how, "we live in a world where we are bombarded with simple visual imagery to which purport to explain the issues, yet these images also help to simplify complex issues, keep the NGOs busy and the media occupied with fears and threats and the defense industry and security forces funded." Illegality Inc: Clandestine Migration and the Business of Bordering Europe by Ruben Andersson.
As part of Refugee Week 2016 I put together a exhibition with four images we often see in newspapers and magazines, and attempted to think about what lay beneath these visual images. Finally I photographed some people from Nottingham's Kurdish community
The Rescue Image
Since 1993 there been over 22,000 recorded deaths in Mediterranean Sea, you can read the names of the deceased across the exhibition. This image is taken on the Greek island of Lesbos and shows the 10 acres of lifejackets sent to landfill. It is one of the rescue images we are often shown on our media channels. Media channels like the rescue image. It provides a visual story of the border spectacle busting at its limits. Dark faces, wild-eyed with salt streaked hair, clothes wet and in tatters, speechless on the golden sands of Europe, the images briefly appear to show a primitive man rescued from a seemingly irrational journey. The Red Cross blankets, clothes and kits provide a uniform, creating a perfect image of anonymous people rescued. The television presents to us a moral narrative of the professional rescue – the reassuring end to the emergency imagined. Yet, do we really understand? The extraction of such images from the complex realities of those seeking asylum is the heart of the rescue image. One famous photojournalist watched his images selected and being re-framed by the media editors to present evidence of humanitarianism. The story he had presented of the ‘cruel and macabre obstacle course’ created by governments and the police was erased.
The Border Spectacle
Not long ago the Euro-African border had just been a fence. Until the early 1990’s only patches of tangled and weed strewn coils of barbed wire marked the international borders between Africa and Europe. With the help of E.U. money, technology companies competed to promote better fences, radars, and satellite systems. Technology was waved as a magical wand, promising migration controls shorn of violence and politics. The fences were slowly fortified, galvanized steel mesh eventually rose more than three meters above the ground, sensors, cameras and bright spotlights string around the borders. Now images of the border conflict fill our screen. One award winning British TV reported sighed at the fact that migration stories only sold only if it was “something about us under siege”, often his titles were changed to invoke this fear. However, border researchers tell us that the fences are monuments of folly, “modern day temples housing the ghost of political sovereignty”, conferring magical power against the incomprehensible powers of global capital.
The Stateless City
In April 2016, the EU agreed to provide 3 billion euros to Turkey to help set up refugee facilities. Across the globe there are hundreds of refugee facilities, often larger than many cities, for example the Dadaab camp in Kenya has housed over 400,000 people since 1992. This image shows the Al Zaatri camp in Jordon which houses around 130,000 people. These camps are often the end of a long journey. Along the route to the camp many people die, a process which one camp director called a ‘Darwinian selection’. In the camp the refugees are screened, recorded and assigned identity categories in an elaborate process of ‘flow management’. The camp residents are often in a bind; they are not permitted to work or move on and so had no choice but to accept any handouts coming their way. The camp turned them into charitable objects, and any discontent was interpreted as ingratitude. ‘We are paying big amounts of money to knock them to bits, little by little.’ one nun commented. Scholars point out these camps simply serve as sorting centers as ‘airlocks’ that regulate the flux of people according to the fickle needs of the European labour market. These new cities are the home of the homeless, people stranded and stateless.
Criminalising Acts of Humanitarism
Denmark’s former children’s ombudsman recently has accused the Danish government of “criminalising decency” as hundreds of people were prosecuted under human trafficking laws for helping refugees. Lisbeth Zornig is one of almost 300 Danes to be taken to court for giving asylum seekers lifts around the country or to neighboring Sweden. Simple acts of Humanitarism become a apolitical form of politics The Council of the European Union is preparing plans to equate the concept of migrant "smuggling" with migrant "trafficking" and potentially criminalise or marginalise NGOs, local people and volunteers who welcome and helping refugees and migrants arriving in the EU. Tony Bunyan, Statewatch Director, commented on the draft proposals. "The Council proposals would criminalise NGOs, local people and volunteers who have worked heroically to welcome refugees when the EU institutions did nothing, while other plans would require them to "register" with the police and work within state structures. In a humane and caring EU it should not be necessary to "register" to offer help and care to people who have suffered so much already. Civil society, volunteers and all those throughout the EU who are seeking to help refugees as they arrive having fled from war, persecution and poverty should unite to oppose the Council's plans. Criminalising NGOs and volunteers working to help refugees has no place in a democracy worthy of the name."