Over the past year, the news has been full of headlines about Europe’s refugee crisis. But this wasn’t the case when Danish photographer Sofie Amalie Klougart first travelled to Italy in early 2015 to document life inside one of Europe’s reception centres. Her series, Reaching Europe, a collaboration with Danish journalist Marie Louise Albers, is a moving glimpse into the experiences of displaced individuals who are desperately seeking a safe life away from conflict zones and disaster-stricken countries. A mixture of portrait and reportage photography, her series is a powerful reminder of these people’s humanity and vulnerability.
“Reaching Europe gives the viewer an insight into a reception centre in Pozzallo in southern Sicily and tells the story of African migrants who reached European shores. The site was strictly controlled and, since our visit, it has been criticised for its poor conditions and lack of legal support among other things,” Sofie Amalie tells It’s Nice That. She goes on to explain that, as this visit took place before the crisis, it was difficult to get stories about refugees in the press. Hoping to break through the indifference, she approached a number of Danish media to offer her work but no one wanted to publish it. "We even gave away four long articles for free to a Danish online platform as none of the traditional media were interested,” she says. Things changed abruptly when 700 people drowned in the Mediterranean a few weeks later, prompting the same media companies to return and ask for pictures and stories.
Sofie Amalie’s photographs are melancholic and subdued with still figures looking pensively into the camera. “The refugees and migrants often sat directly under the sunlight because they missed being outside. Most of them had been kept imprisoned in Libya by local gangs or by their traffickers and now they felt the same way in Italy. They were not allowed to leave the centre, even though the institution violated human rights by prohibiting them,” she explains. This sentiment is reflected in her photographs. Rays of light cut across the enclosed space and create bar-like geometric shapes reminiscent of prison cells.
The artist remembers a particularly poignant day: “One of the images shows a very rare event. A guy from the centre’s staff brought his computer into the reception centre and for the first time since the migrants arrived, they were able to watch a movie. I was literally tiptoeing around so I didn’t disturb the people watching. You can imagine how excited they were. But the movie that was put on turned out to be a very violent Italian-speaking film so the atmosphere wasn’t as joyful in the end.” There was a hanging TV-screen above the laptop, which she says felt like a painful reminder of the migrants’ disillusionment and false hope.
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