A boy from Afghanistan tries to keep warm after a cold and wet crossing from Turkey. Cases of hypothermia are on the increase as the weather deteriorates across the eastern Mediterranean.
In an image saturated world it’s difficult to define and measure the effects of photographs. We know advertising works, but those are images intended to sell us stuff. What if the purpose of a photograph is to “sell” us of a moral or political point? What if a photograph wants us to shift our emotional and practical response to far away events?
Giles Duley’s work Lesvos: Crossing To Safety made in Greece last October are intended, firstly, to bear witness and, secondly, to provoke action to help the hundreds of thousands of migrants. That’s why he didn’t simply make images and send them to the wires, but he courted the support of the United Nations so that he might extend the distribution of his images — and the refugees’ stories — far into global, humanitarian dialogue channels. (This UN-produced feature on Duley’s career and motivations is very thorough.)
Not content with only traditional distribution channels, Duley looked for alternative ways of launching his images into an unorthodox space; a Massive Attack gig.
“The scenes were overwhelming,” Duley said to the UNHCR. “In all the time I’ve worked, I’ve never seen such emotion and humanity laid so bare as I witnessed on the beaches of Lesvos. One of the first emails I sent was to the guys in Massive Attack. Seeing such events, I felt so powerless, I needed to do something. At that stage I had no idea how the collaboration would work, but I knew the band would want to act.”
Stills of Giles Duley’s photos on screen behind the stage of Massive Attack. Courtesy: Massive Attack.
A founding element of the era-defining Trip Hop genre, Massive Attack are known for taking forthright stances on political and governmental behaviours. Saturday Come Slow, their collaboration with released British Guantanamo detainees, Broomberg & Chanarin and Damon Albarn was poignant, crafted and clever, I thought.
Furthermore, as Alexis Petridis wrote for the Guardian, “Massive Attack have worked with the Stop the War coalition and visited refugee camps in Lebanon, while in 2011, Del Naja and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke threw a party for Occupy protesters who had taken over a UBS bank building in London.”
It’s not surprise Massive Attack are lending their support to Duley and shocking their euphoric crowds with thumping reality. Duley’s images loop throughout the gig, but they get their biggest showing at the close of the show, when the music ends and the band leaves the stage. For minutes — in silence — the crowd is shown a mammoth slideshow of Syrians and other migrants landing in boats, hungry, tired and terrified. A far cry from the revelry of a gig. But people stayed. This Channel 4News segment is well worth the watch:
History has taught us that photos can certainly alter the mood of entire populations. Practice has also taught us that earnest, targeted messaging can help photos land. I hope more artists can lend a hand to serve the messages of humanitarian photographers. Usually, professionals commission images to be made to meet their own messaging needs so it’s great to see artists, citizens and successful public figures provide space within their platforms to amplify photographer’s voice.
Included here are Giles Duley’s images from Lesvos, Greece, made in October 2015.
An overcrowded boat carrying Syrian refugees heads to shore. One Syrian man had fallen from the boat into cold water. He was later rescued by volunteer Spanish lifeguards. Despite the approach of winter and worsening weather, refugees are continuing to arrive on the island at a rate of more than 3,200 per day. As of mid-November, at least 64 people have drowned this year in 11 shipwrecks off Lesvos.
Boat after boat lands on the coast of Lesvos between Eftalou and Skala Sykaminia. Over 45 per cent of the 836,088 refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe so far in 2015 have landed on this Greek island, which is separated from Turkey by a 10-kilometre channel.
An Afghan mother holds her child moments after landing on the beach near Skala Sykaminia. UNHCR and its partners work to prevent family separations and create safe areas for women and children who are particularly vulnerable.
An Afghan family of several generations disembark from an overcrowded boat. Almost 40 per cent of refugees currently arriving on Lesvos are from Afghanistan.
UNHCR is working around the clock with other agencies and aid groups, stockpiling and distributing winter aid items to keep vulnerable people, both in camps and urban settings, protected and warm. Donate money to the UNCHR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) here.
• The distribution of winter survival kits including high thermal blankets, sleeping bags, winter clothes, heating stoves, and gas supplies.
• The provision of emergency shelters including family tents, refugee housing units and emergency reception facilities.
• Improvement of reception and transit centers and preparing and supporting families for winter conditions.
You can help make a difference. Donate money to the UNCHR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) here.
A relieved Afghan family, clearly still suffering from the trauma of a rough sea crossing at the hands of people smugglers, disembarks from a flimsy vessel onto a Lesvos beach.
An Afghan mother hugs her child and cries with relief after arriving on Lesvos.
Survivors struggle ashore after their boat has capsized. In the background a Spanish lifeguard, one of the many volunteers working on the beach, swims out to help other survivors.
A Syrian father, his two children now safely wrapped in thermal blankets, looks to the heavens in thanks after landing safely on the beach.
A young Afghan boy with his aunt. His mother is receiving emergency medical treatment after she collapsed upon landing. Since August UNHCR, in close cooperation with the Greek authorities and other humanitarian actors, has considerably stepped up its activities to respond to the increasing needs. This is even more imperative with the onset of winter.
Volunteers prepare to wrap a young girl in an emergency blanket to protect her from the cold wind.
Read ‘War Survivor Focuses Lens on Refugees‘ about Duley’s work in Greece. Reacquaint yourself with the ‘Lesvos: Crossing to Safety‘ feature. Read a review ‘How Many Stories Can You Tell In One Second?‘ of Duley’s new book One Second of Light.