Images of refugees and migration fill the portfolios of many of the world’s most respected photographers. But the predominant picture we have of the lives of the displaced remains that of “boats and camps.”
Some photographers have pushed back against this narrow, if dramatic, representation, but it persists and helps to shape public perceptions of refugees. In our latest Deeply Talk we looked at these constraints from the perspective of those shooting, editing and commissioning photographs.
Kalpesh Lathigra, U.K.-based photographer, teacher and former World Press Photo winner, talked about the dynamics that produce the current visual status quo and how working photographers can help to change it. Jelena Jovicic from the University of Stockholm, whose Ph.D. explores the criminalization of certain forms of migration through visual framing, joined us to share her research on the same topic.
She observed a “really large gap between the mainstream media portrayal, which offers the well-known imagery of faraway shots, which are blurry, large groups of people walking or on boats … or angry men. And people who do try to create alternative approaches, such as independent photographers and filmmakers who are trying tell a story that is not about victimhood or being threatening.”
Lathigra contrasted his early career experience of chasing news shots with later assignments in which he has chosen to show refugees in a way that helped Western audiences relate to them as people. He has also experimented with portraits in which the subjects have controlled their own portrayal: “Showing themselves how they want to be seen … rather than seeing themselves as constant victims.”
Moderator and Refugees Deeply senior editor Daniel Howden discussed some of our experiences as a publisher dedicated to covering forced migration – in particular, the relative invisibility of urban refugees.
Listen to the whole episode of Deeply Talks: Picturing Refugees here:
Deeply Talks is a regular feature bringing together our network of readers and expert contributors to critically examine the latest developments in refugee policy and examine emerging trends in displacement. To join future Deeply Talks, make sure you are signed up to our newsletter below.