France - Culture

Photo-reporting at Visa pour l’Image describes refugee sorrow

AFP photojournalist Aris Messinis poses next to one of his news photos of a woman refugee, holding a small child, trying to get on to Greek island of Lesbos.
AFP photojournalist Aris Messinis poses next to one of his news photos of a woman refugee, holding a small child, trying to get on to Greek island of Lesbos. Rosslyn Hyams/RFI

Reflecting the headline news stories of the past year, migrant issues are prominent again at the annual international photojournalists’ meet in France. RFI’s Rosslyn Hyams reports from the host city of Visa pour L’Image, Perpignan.

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Two of the event’s 20 selected exhibitions focus on the plight of people escaping from conflict, famine and poverty to countries where they have nothing and often aren’t welcome.

One spans 25 years of works by multi-award winning Yannis Behrakis who works for Reuters news agency. It includes the 2016 Visa pour l’Image poster shot, of a Syrian refugee man, after landing in Europe, walks alone in the middle of a road in the half-light and the pouring rain, clinging to his daughter, whose arms are wrapped around his neck.

This fraction of a retrospective serves to show that while conflict shifts from one place to another, little changes for the refugees’ struggle.

Aris Messinis works for Agence France Presse. He was on the Island of Lesbos where thousands of migrants washed up or landed in 2015 after crossing the sea from Turkey. In his photos on display in Perpignan, fluorescent orange life-jackets and the fight for life, dominate his pictures.

"Why did I choose to focus on my photos on Lesbos? Well, I have covered the migrants from all angles. I even went with them on their journey to Germany. But what I saw in Lesbos was the most dangerous, the most risky, the most scary… I saw people who had escaped war, dying in the sea… they were dying in the sea."

Messinis explained regretfully, that even if there are some images he himself wants to forget, he has taken other shots he would had liked to have included in the exhibition in the Couvent des Minimes in Perpignan. He had to leave them out because they would have been too shocking.

"I hope that the result of my work makes some people think more and maybe feel bad about what is happening somewhere else in the world… I have chosen even some hard photos. I have even harder."

With a different approach to increasing awareness about the dramatic human side of the migrant crisis, this year’s winner of the Golden Visa Award for digital information, Magnus Wennman, creates a little distance. He produced an animated photo documentary called Fatima’s Drawings for his paper Aftonbladet. Six year-old Fatima is an exile from Syria, living in Sweden.

Through her coloured pencil drawings, six year old Fatima explains that she doesn’t like the sea, she misses her friend and the country where she was born. Wenneman, winner of two World Press Photo Awards and several times Sweden's Photographer of the Year, photographs the child in the gentler grey northern winter light which contrasts with the harsh, overly-bright blue sky and deep blue see

Less hard-hitting visually than the photos in the daily press, Fatima’s drawings show how hard it is to cope with the trauma of escape, even in a safe place.

The photos chosen at Visa pour l’Image which depict the migrants’ suffering, bring home the photojournalists’ message to the viewing public. Messinis and Behrakis both said they had themselves been unable to stand by and went beyond their job as witnesses and reporters, to help the people in live-or-die situations.

"The interest goes up and down. This is our job, to be there, to fight for the information, and show it to the people and keep the people awake and aware of the reality."

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