While reviewing the work of the eleven photographers in this important body of collective work I was reminded of a book that significantly influenced my career in photojournalism.
‘The Concerned Photographer 2’ published in 1973 contained a wealth of compelling black and white documentary photographs, the work of eight Magnum agency collective photographers, depicting moments of the human condition of the post WWII years. Untold hardship, strife and injustices told through the medium of the still image.
It is with that book that I draw a parallel to the one you have in your hand in so much that over 40 years later the need for the ‘concerned photographer’, is as essential now than when that book was published. I’d venture to say that the need is far greater now that the world’s media has shrunk to an insipid preoccupation with banalities and sensationalism driven by greed, the Internet’s false truths and ignorance.
It is argued that photographs don’t lie yet controversy abounds on the matter of images altered electronically to distort said truths and again we are faced with an uneasy uncertainty that was rarely the case before the digital era came along. Yes, unquestionably, images were cropped to exclude elements that told another story than the photographer intended. Figures were airbrushed out in what was the precursor to Photoshop manipulations.
However, the photographs in these pages don’t lie. The photographers who made these pictures are ‘concerned’ photojournalists whose conviction to tell the refugee story is abundantly clear. Why put yourself at risk to make these pictures? What other motive could they possibly have? There are no monetary rewards for doing this work, no accolades, no hidden incentives, only the reward of compassion for their subjects whose uncertain paths are at the mercy of chance and goodwill.
Many of the world’s ‘star’ photographers have also been on the 2015/2016 refugee trail. Many have won awards for their work, deservedly so in some cases, and it would be wrong to conclude that because the 11 photographers whose work make up this book are not amongst the ‘star’ rating that their work is less important.
Every effort to draw our attention to the plight of refugees is essential and important work, be it the written word, the moving image, or, in this case, the fixing in time of moments that depict the history of our existence on this planet.
It is fantasy to believe that any one still photograph has the power to radically change the infinite suffering of the few though I firmly believe photography has had a significant global impact on our general well being. While our visual literacy has significantly evolved in the last 50 years so has the deluge of imagery we are confronted with daily in the digital social media era. This has had the adverse effect of inuring our sensibilities to imagery that we should be paying closer attention to.
Conveying the message has become harder as a consequence. Without the dedication of photographers such as those on these pages our perception of the world we inhabit would be even further removed from the truth. These photographers are the messengers of that truth and we need to be looking more closely, beyond the rectangle of the compositions before us to imagine ourselves in these scenes, these human beings whose entire worldly possessions are contained in all they can carry on their perilous journey to an uncertain future.
Since learning the fundamentals of documentary photography as a freelance with London’s Fleet Street newspaper titles Derek Hudson left Great Britain for New York to realise his ambition to become a Life magazine photographer which he realised in 1992 until the closure of the title in 2000. In the forty years of his career he has been published in most of the world’s major magazines, held a staff position with the French picture agencies Sygma, Agence Vu and Getty Images. Currently residing in Berlin from where his passion for photography continues. He is twice recipient of World Press Photo awards along with recognition from the American Art Directors Association, his work on humanitarian issues having been at the forefront of his career. Represented today by the Verbatim Photo Agency Derek is preparing his first retrospective book and exhibition encompassing work from the 1970’s to this day. www.derekhudson.com
It's hard to look through the often tragic photos by these eleven photographers and not recall the horrifying scenes of refugees disembarking from flimsy dinghies into the wintry Mediterranean waters on the Greek island of Lesbos during my first visit in 2015. Strewn across the shore were abandoned life jackets, decrepit boats, deflated dinghies and makeshift floaties not suited for a child's use in the swimming pool.
Each life jacket told the story of someone who risked their very existence to flee war and economic devastation in their homelands with the hope that they'd be able to raise their children in a safer world, one without air strikes and widespread starvation. Each boat was a depressing reminder of how many boats didn't make it, sinking into the Mediterranean along with the lives they carried. And each of these photos is a testament to the so-called refugee crisis. Though it was not a crisis in the sense the mainstream media and the European Union leaders portrayed it, the refugee influx was a crisis of European management and a reminder that Europe had failed to uphold its own moral compass.
The sad nature of journalism is its potential for careerists to build their professional profiles off the backs of suffering. The refugee crisis was no different: Countless photographers and writers used the suffering of those fleeing hardship to launch their careers, to win awards and to leave behind the people from whose heartbreaking stories they benefited.
Yet, these eleven photographers have put together a collection that prioritizes the struggles of refugees and people living in war-ravaged lands without the self-serving conceit that characterizes much of the journalistic work on the ongoing crises. In each photo, a story is told and a voice is preserved. Moments in history - crucial moments - are made permanent.
When historians one day look back on the horrifying events of these years, they will be incalculably indebted to the work of this collection and others. When populist politicians seek to rile up anti-immigrant sentiment that peddles lies that refugees came to take jobs or exploit welfare systems, photos like the ones in this collection will still be there to remind us of some of the facts: No parent places their children on a rickety boat to risk death unless death was already an almost certainty in their ancestral lands.
Patrick Strickland is a journalist at Al Jazeera English. His reportage focuses on human rights, migration, social justice and popular struggles. He has reported from across the Middle East and North Africa, Europe, the Balkans and the United States. Patrick is currently based in Doha, Qatar, and has lived in Beirut, Lebanon, and the occupied Palestinian territories. www.postrickland.com
We spend all our lives on the move, on an itinerary.
Sometimes this itinerary is solitary, on other occasions we embark on it together with other people. Sometimes the itinerary is pleasant, sometimes not.
The itinerary can be difficult or it can be easy, it can be unpredictable, full of surprises, joyful or painful, accompanied by questions asking “why?”.
This is how, more or less, the Asylum Service embarked on its own itinerary three years ago. Almost solitary at the outset, but as the days and months passed, the itinerary was joined by more and more people… On this road, Greeks met with Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, with people from Iran, Somalia, Eritrea, Georgia…
Every single day that passes, we listen to their anguish, their fear, their hopes of returning to their homelands, their longing for rejoining their families, for reaching another country, for arriving in Europe!
The photographers who have contributed to this collection, who followed these people on their itinerary, saw in their own way what we listen to every day.
On this common itinerary, every one of us has a different starting point, different experiences, images, expectations, faiths…However, we all want to reach the end of the ITINERARY peacefully, with our children healthy and safe.
May every one of us find on this road kind fellow travelers.
Maria Stavropoulou, Director Greek Asylum Service
Ms. Maria Stavropoulou is a lawyer working on migration and refugee issues since 1990. Ms. Stavropoulou has law degrees from the Athens Law School, University College London and Harvard Law School. From 1990 until 2011 she worked for the United Nations and UNHCR. Since 2012 she is heading the Asylum Service of Greece. The Asylum Service was created in 2011, and at that time had three staff. By the end of 2016 it had grown to over 650 staff, and had 18 offices around Greece. In 2016 it was the agency responsible for deciding on over 60,000 applications for international protection. http://asylo.gov.gr/en/