We built this archive between 2015 and 2016, with material collected throughout 2014 and 2015.
The two narrative registers – anthropology and photography – have proceeded together, combining the depth of ethnographic research with the strength of visual documentation. This double register of analysis and narration intended to build a knowledge on forced human mobility and on the social hierarchies of exclusion that surround those who move beyond the national state, from the point of view of the migrants themselves.
Characterized by an ethnographic perspective that searched for the direct involvement of asylum seekers, the project sought – while maintaining firm principles of non-violation of the intimacy of the people involved – to represent the details of their daily life through the collection of stories, but even more of the images, which portray their social experiences. In fact, the social, institutional and political scenario does not exhaust itself
in the first procedures for checking or applying for asylum. Instead, it continues in the forms of assistance and in the same reception structures where the long wait for permits is consumed, in the ferocious meshes of institutional abandonment, in the informal spaces that mark time towards an uncertain legal future, in a path that starting from an initial strength and hope leads most of the time to forms of marginalization and subjugation.
The use of social photography to talk about refugees intends to drag the public gaze towards the materiality of the concrete experience of being asylum seekers, starting from the voices and perspective of the subjects themselves. The social portraits show how the asylum seekers are people whose space for action is often cut out within grids of poverty and discrimination, but also young men and women who are moving towards rebuilding their lives and organizing a daily life with few material means. The images thus shed light on the most critical points of the reception and protection systems and on the arenas of action created by the asylum seekers in their interplay with the surrounding social dynamics .
At that time, our goal was to breach the public sphere with an anti-hegemonic discourse on migration by sea. Looking at the future, the aim was to keep track of what was expelled from public memory. Our work has thus evolved towards the construction of a collective knowledge on the real experiences of migrants in their relationship with the structures of social and legal vulnerability, without forgetting the possibility of human reorganization despite a often extreme marginality. The connection between political asylum, mobility and places of arrival has emerged, avoiding to turn certain points of the migration process, for example the moments of landing and disembarkation, into a “spectacle”, thus with the risk of transforming the people portrayed into victims without history. Rather, those documented are the reverberations of violence and injustice to which migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are constantly exposed.
Between the state and migrants
One of the initial questions was how to tell through images the close relationship between the state and migrants and what is called the governance of migration. We refer with this expression to the ways in which the receiving States instead of protecting migrants put them in positions of risk, insecurity, poverty, exclusion. Often this process takes place not in a direct and declared way, but through informality, abandonment to suffering and vulnerability, or by maintaining helpless positions in the face of exploitation and exposure to marginal structures. The archive could therefore not limit itself to showing the extent of the state and migration policies through formal and directly implemented practices. Rather, it was a question of documenting the informal proceeding and the reverberations of these policies in the lives of migrants, for instance in the extended temporalities and long waits for documents or recognition, in the forms of institutional abandonment, in the everyday life lived in material and social distress as well as in constant vulnerability.