Currently, the authorities of numerous countries are unremittingly trying to isolate the migratory movements of people, however these migrants have always had a profound impact that has resulted in a ripple effect in the political, economic and humane environments. For example, historically, people left Europe for the United States seeking amnesty, in the beginning of the twentieth century. Poor people migrated from the cornbelt to California. Even now, many poor farmers migrate through China, recurring famines drive hundreds of thousands of people in Sahel into forced wandering and the situation of the Roma people is more and more exasperated. The paradox of the proclaimed theme of free circulation within the European Union is advertised while the reality, passage is increasingly controlled and difficult with the majority of the states aiming to destroy the migrants’ lifestyle. Simultaneously, North America and Europe barricade against emigrants of any origin.
This on-going sensitive and difficult topic is the subject of these books as well as showing how photography can express complex issues. I try to illustrate them through various books published, covering a broad period of time, countries and circumstances.
A short list is always debatable. My choice is to offer books that ask the right questions through different eyes, even if it means to reveal inhumane realities.
Library Curator at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris
Kindly supported by the French Embassy in Ireland
Ellis Island, 1905-1920
Augustus F. Sherman
Throughout his tenure as a registry clerk with the Immigration Division of Ellis Island, Augustus F. Sherman systematically photographed more than 200 families, groups, and individuals while they were being held by customs for special investigations. A historical document of unprecedented worth, Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits includes almost one-hundred portraits taken from 1904 through 1920. The resulting body of work presents a unique and powerful picture of the stream of immigrants who came through Ellis Island.
Passionate Journey, Photographs 1905-1937
Lewis Hine was a sociologist, as his preference for themes relating to immigrants and the working class in his photographs would clearly suggest. This volume presents a cross-section of Hine’s creative work from a selection of photographs chosen from among nearly 11,000 negatives. It celebrates one of the truly great pioneers of documentary photography, an artist who left his mark on subsequent generations of photographers in this genre. Lewis Hine’s influence upon the great documentary photographers of our time is undeniable.
American Exodus, A Record of Human Erosion in the Thirties
First published in 1939, An American Exodus is one of the masterpieces of the documentary genre. Produced by the incomparable documentary photographer Dorothea Lange with text by her husband, Paul Taylor, An American Exodus was taken in the early 1930s while the couple were working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) The book documents the rural poverty of the depression-era exodus that brought over 300,000 migrants to California in search of farm work, a westward mass migration driven by economic deprivation as opposed to the manifest destiny of 19th century pioneers.
A Seventh Man, The Story of a Migrant Worker in Europe
John Berger & Jean Mohr
A Seventh Man was first published in 1975. This impassioned portrait of migrant life is more relevant than ever as an incisive response to eruptions of anti-immigration rhetoric. Originally envisaged as a film-documentary-cum-family-album, the book is arranged into three chapters depicting departure, work and return. Its powerful mix of facts, figures, poetry, abstract theory and photographs opens up the dehumanising experience of migration to reveal a stultifying lack of freedom at the heart of neo-liberal capitalism, which Berger bluntly recoins “economic fascism”.
In the last few years the world has begun to recognise that at the heart of the Middle East crisis is the ‘Palestinian problem’. Yet, the myth persists that the Palestinians are little more than a group of ragged and down-trodden refugees led by ambitious desperados for whom terrorism offers an outlet for the savagery bred by camp life. The Palestinians explodes this myth by giving a voice to the people. It is about individuals. The book explores the crisis of a people without a land, demonstrating that the ‘Palestinian problem’ is not just an abstract issue, but also an urgent human tragedy.
Sahel, L’homme en détresse
In 1984 Sebastião Salgado began what would be a fifteen-month project of photographing the drought-stricken Sahel region of Africa, where approximately one million people died from extreme malnutrition and related causes. Working with the humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders, Salgado documented the enormous suffering and great dignity of the refugees. This early work became a template for his future photographic projects about other afflicted people around the world. Since then, Salgado has again and again sought to give visual voice to those millions of human beings who, because of military conflict, poverty, famine, overpopulation, pestilence, environmental degradation, and other forms of catastrophe, teeter on the edge of survival.
The sense of private mystery that fills these photographs – mostly taken during Koudelka’s many years wandering through Europe and the United States after leaving his native Czechoslovakia – speaks of passion and reserve, of his “rage to see”. The images here interrogate and penetrate, and reflect the nature of alienation. In these black-and-white photographs, Koudelka looks at incongruous images, things laying about on pavements, and people in grainy and stark surroundings. These images are underpinned by Koudelka’s stark composition and the graininess of the photographs themselves. The photographs are beautiful, not just because they are pretty images, but because they reveal the realities and oddities of life.
The Transported of Kwandebele, A South African Odyssey
In words and pictures, this book records the embattled lives of black South Africans banished to Kwandebele, a segregated “homeland” outside Pretoria. Because of the distance between Kwandebele and the city where nearly all are employed, the workers must endure four to eight hour daily bus commutes on rutted roads. This book is a direct, sober and unself-dramatising document.
Exile at Home
For 20 years and across five continents, Frederic Brenner has documented the lives of members of the Jewish diaspora. In 1997 he learned that fourteen of the families he had photographed around the world had immigrated to Israel. In celebration of Israel’s 50th anniversary, Brenner photographed them again in their new homeland. The before and after photos of each family are on facing pages, posed, but still representing the truths of their particular situations. Stark or sophisticated interiors, crowded and dirty but smiling families, and dancing children reveal more than meets the eye. In keeping with Jewish tradition, this collection is truly a book of questions.
Go No Go, les frontières de l’Europe
Ad van Denderen
For over thirteen years, Ad van Denderen travelled along what later came to be called the Schengen borders. His goal: to put a face to anonymous people. Van Denderen’s photographs are not the familiar images of destitute refugees leaving behind their home after catastrophes, but document modern nomads, legal or illegal refugees, armed with mobile phones, in the heart of Europe and it’s far remote corners.
Crossings, Photographs from the US-Mexico border
The US-Mexico border, a ribbon of land some two thousand miles long and ten miles wide, is home to twelve million people. It is a narrow strip where cultural differences between two lands are blurred, where an atmosphere of transience dominates. Alex Webb has spent more than twenty-five years covering this region, and his work captures the humour and pathos, paradox and tragedy, of life in the borderland. This collection of colour images shows a terrain where cultural differences between the two countries are blurred, where industrialised efficiency meets spirituality, where wealth meets poverty, and all are transformed in the process.
Déplacés is a book about the people of Uzbekistan. A Soviet creation, Uzbekistan is a melting pot of communities with mixed roots: Germans, Poles, Greeks, Russians, Koreans, and Tatars, amongst others, who were deported by Stalin’s regime. The journey of “non-Uzbeks” emigrating today to their home country is depicted using a timeline with a biographical fragment to tell the stories of the people photographed.
A life full of Holes, The Strait Project
Ceuta and Melilla, Spanish enclaves on the northern tips of Morocco, have long been used by African migrants as stepping stones into Iberia. However, since EU legislation in 1991, movement across this small stretch of the Strait of Gibraltar has been heavily restricted, and it has now become a main gateway for illegal immigration. Yto Barrada, a Parisian-born Moroccan photographer, captures the mood of longing, weariness and alienation in this book, asking the question “what is the condition of a country whose people are all leaving, or trying to leave?”. She discovers a place in permanent transience and a population forever looking at the Spanish coastline for hope and a better life, yet rarely succeeding in reaching their destination.
The Roma Journeys
Between 2000 and 2006 photographer Joakim Eskildsen and writer Cia Rinne travelled seven different countries to gain an insight into the life of the Roma people and the conditions they face. They spent a considerable length of time among the people and, if possible, lived with them for a while.
“We have frequently been asked what had triggered our interest in the Roma, but we were unable to provide a definitive, let alone exhaustive answer. What is certain is that once we hard started we were unable to simply stop continuing with the project. The more we found out about the Roma and got to know them, the more our interest in and liking for them grew.”
From Somewhere to Nowhere, China’s Internal Migrants
“Trucks thunder along a wide expressway in Anhui Province, sending the dust swirling. A man can be seen at the side of the road, still a long way off, a traveller. He slowly comes closer. He is carrying a bag on his right shoulder and a bundle on his back. ‘Where have you come from?’ I ask. ‘From somewhere.’ he says. ‘And where are you going?’ ‘Nowhere.’ He laughs at me, obviously quite content with his reply. Then he leaves me at the side of the road with the title of my book.”
Ma proche banlieue
Since the 1980s, Patrick Zachmann has been photographing suburbs. Drawing on the work of François Hers and Sophie Ristelhueber Intérieur, about apartment lives and portraits of the inhabitants, Zachmann dives into the private lives of the families of a Parisian suburb in 1989. In 1993, he turns his attention to the lives of the Malian community of Évry, a suburb experiencing migratory issues.
Jungles, Abris de fortune aux abords de la Manche
After several trips to Calais, Jean Revillard offers work evoking both the childhood dreams of Robinson Crusoe and the tragedy of these refugees. The zone referred to as “The Jungle”, a stretch of trees and bushes along the highway leading to the Calais ferries where the migrant workers had built their makeshift tents, was dismantled with bulldozers under the watchful eyes of law officers on September 22, 2009. “We need shelter and protection, we want peace. The jungle is our home” read a banner hanging over the 300 remaining residents. From Irak, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Erythrea, Iran, they are for the most part minors. Jean Revillard evokes these broken lives by taking pictures of these ephemeral homes where horror is a daily reality.
East of a New Eden, European External Borders, A Documentary Account
Alban Kakulya & Yann Mingard
Alban Kakulya and Yann Mingard have travelled along the European Union’s new borders to document the borderland and its special architecture, outposts, road systems, lanes, signs and fences. In the two photographers’ portrayal, the areas seem devoid of human beings and dominated by the clash between objects and nature. There is no exaggerated sensationalism, but a clear balance between how the emptiness is accentuated by the surroundings and the presentimental lack of editing. It is the absence of people and action that intrudes on us, like a mumble between tons of snow, stones, asphalt, iron and concrete, the nothingness like cries from the road’s distant, endless horizon.
Espen Rasmussen, Norwegian photographer and picture editor for Norway’s largest daily, Verdens Gang, has spent nearly seven years compiling the Transit project. Transit documents the plight of some of the 43 million refugees and displaced people around the world today. On the run from conflict, political persecution or natural disasters, desperate people, uprooted from their communities, undertake arduous journeys to find safety for themselves and their families. From the displaced of the war in Georgia, to the Janjaweed who kill and rape in Darfur, Rasmussen travelled to 10 different countries, recording the lives of individuals trying to make new lives for themselves after fleeing their homes, and the hardships that set them on the run.
“Cathedral cars” is a generic term invented by dockers at the port of Marseilles to designate the vehicles that cross over the Mediterranean from Marseilles to North Africa by ship. Thomas Mailaender pays tribute to these “cathedral cars” that can be considered as human feats, visually defying the laws of gravity and tied-up dreams.
The photographer has made portraits of these cars seen from behind or from the profile, taking the background away in order to isolate them in the frame. Evoking popular art and sculpture, these cars also speak of the voyage to come, and deal with the passage from one territory to another, exodus and migration.
Opening day: 6pm Fri 13 Jul
Dates: 14-15 Jul
Opening hours: 12-5pm daily
Lad Lane, off Baggot Street, Dublin 2