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Features / Photography

Photographing the migrant crisis with a focus on people, not sensationalism

Words:

Emily Gosling

Photography:

Daniel Castro Garcia

“A lot of the image-making that gets presented in the media around the migrant crisis is very sensationalist. It doesn’t allow anyone to see the individuals going through these situations,” says John Radcliffe Studio.

Two chaps who are very much aware of the individuals’ plights are designer Thomas Saxby and photographer Daniel Castro Garcia, who make up the studio. In May last year, the pair travelled to southern Italy to document the country’s Mediterranean migrant crisis, visiting places including the small fishing island of Lampedusa, which has become a primary European entry point for migrants coming from Africa and the Middle East.

“We wanted to remove it from a one-off news reportage and get a more in-depth look at people’s lives.”

Daniel Castro Garcia

Throughout May and June, Dani and Tom spent time getting to know the migrants they met, creating a body of work that focused on people, rather than politics; and individuals rather than generalised crises.

After that initial trip, Dani continued to travel Europe meeting migrants and photographing them. “There’s been so many twists and turns in the journey,” says Dani. “We went back in November and December and we did a much more in-depth trip for about six weeks, where we drove from Calais to Milan to Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia and Athens, and took a ferry to Lesbos. We then travelled back up the Serbian border back up to Greece to Sicily to meet the guys from the first trip. We were able to develop these relationships further and add a new layer of imagery to the subject. We wanted to remove it from a one-off news reportage and get a more in-depth look at people’s lives.”

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John Radcliffe Studio: Foreigner
Italy

Their travels have evolved into the studio’s Foreigner project, a book of images that came about when in February 2016 John Radcliffe Studio was nominated to enter a project into the First Book Award, a publishing prize established to support emerging photographers. As a shortlisted entrant, the book will be exhibited with nine others at the opening of Photo London at Somerset House, on 18 May. The Kickstarter page for the book has since garnered high profile support from the likes of photographers Martin Parr and Alec Soth.

Getting these images out into the world is a crucial part of the project. “What’s important to me as a photographer is being a vehicle for these individual to have a bit more of a voice,” says Dani. “Our impetus for the project was using photography as an empowering tool. We want to make people look dignified: when the portraiture has been intimate, you’re removing people visually from the environment . There’s no fundamental differences between those people and you and me, and that’s a contrast with how the media reports on it.”

“The book is about people making a journey, so we wanted that progression reflected in the design.”

Daniel Castro Garcia

Tom worked on the design for the book, which was created to resemble a passport, with burgundy as a main colour and using tracing paper maps to “show the geography and underline the point of borders and movement of people and lines of segregation,” says Tom. He adds: “We spent a lot of time structuring it, there’s nothing crazy going on with the layout but it took a long time to figure out the structure. There are photographs from lots of locations and we went back to visit people, so it loosely starts with arrival chapters then progresses to people stuck in limbo. The book is about people making a journey, so we wanted that progression reflected in the design."

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John Radcliffe Studio: Foreigner
Idomeni

The images were shot mostly using medium-format film, with the first set using a Rolleiflex camera. “Using that format means you have to work much slower and with more consideration – it’s not like digital where you can just snap hundreds of photos of the same scene,” says Dani. “The feel of the image impacts how people consume it.” Tom adds: “It’s about giving people time and effort, in every sense.”

“What’s amazing is the positivity of the human interactions."

Thomas Saxby

So why take on such a potentially harrowing, not to mention time consuming project? “The real culture shock isn’t for me, it’s for the people we’re meeting,” says Dani. “They’ve come into a situation where there’s all of a sudden 12,000 people with nowhere to go, hardly any food and water, they’re being teargassed. I don’t find that acceptable. We need to think about the problems people are facing, and document them sensitively.” Tom adds: “What’s amazing is the positivity of the human interactions. We’ve made a lot of friends, and even in the most awful situations people manage to be friendly, and invite you for a cup of tea.”

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John Radcliffe Studio: Foreigner
Italy

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John Radcliffe Studio: Foreigner
Calais

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John Radcliffe Studio: Foreigner
Idomeni

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John Radcliffe Studio: Foreigner
Lampedusa

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John Radcliffe Studio: Foreigner
Italy