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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 imagesand the refugees’ storiesfar 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.”

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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 minutesin silencethe 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.

Follow UNHCR on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Donate money to the UNCHR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) here.

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.

Connect with Giles Duley on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and EW Agency.

 

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Rashed, 14, leaves the camp to buy furniture from Jordanian merchants and comes back to sell it, much as his family once did back home.

Toufic Beyhum‘s photographs of the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan provide a look into the makeshift pastimes and work as well as the daily mundane activities of Syrian refugees. His series Champs Elysées focuses on the retail and food stands along the central road in Za’atari nicknamed Champs Elysées by French aid workers.

This body of work is more interesting than many others emerging from the Syrian conflict. There are no bombs here, but there is trauma. That trauma though isn’t immediately apparent. We’ve got to dig deep into Beyhum’s photographs.

Beyhum’s focus on small-scale trade is instantly connective; there’s no society in the world that doesn’t move about the continuous modest commercial negotiations. Beyhum shows us the less fraught but no-less-important side of the Syrian conflict and the refugee resettlement.

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How do cities, wanted or not, develop? How do humans resettle? And what happens if that resettlement is involuntary? Refugee camps are a hive of struggle and psychological trauma, but they are also a hive of survival and continuing on. Of course, the degree to how much refugees want to live on, move on, accommodate and adapt in camps differs hugely. In Western Sahara, for example, refugee camps have housed Sahwaris who fled war over 38 years and the definitions of “home” are under great assault.

One hopes that Za-atari and Syria’s other refugee camps won’t be the “home” for repeated generations. Za’atari is home to an estimated 130,000 Syrians. It is only 3 years old. It is now the 4th largest city in Jordan. It’s an extraordinary place for all the wrong reasons.

The world tends to think of refugee camps as a necessary inconvenience — as better than war, and as the most stable iteration of displacement. Refugees, on the other hand, are daily reminded of lost goods, careers, projects and anchoring points of pride from their former lives (a French psychologist talks about this very well in this VICE feature, Syria: Ground Zero shot by Robert King).

Beyhum’s series, I think, expertly patrols those gaps between subject and audience’s perceptions.

PHOTOGRAPHY’S ROLE

Before digging a little deeper into Beyhum’s work I want make a nod to work made by NOOR photographers at the turn of the year that simultaneously documented the camp and provided opportunities for refugees to make new family portraits. VICE:

Nina Berman, Andrea Bruce, Alixandra Fazzina, and Stanley Greene — supported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Japan Emergency NGOs (JEN) — turned a large tent into a photo booth where refugees could come and have their portraits made. Refugees were asked to bring an object they cherished or, if they didn’t have anything, to bring a person they loved. A boy came wrapped in his blanket. A man brought his shisha pipe. A mother posed with her five children. In all, about 300 portraits were printed on the spot and given to people to keep.

Beyhum‘s series  Champs Elysées strikes me as a worthy project for attention. He used film. He self-funded. He partnered with writer Nadim Dimechkie, whose words appear below in italics.

There are common attributes to all refugee camps (devastating stories of different degrees) but Beyhum identified one of the defining characteristics of Za’atari — the extraordinary growth of independent businesses. According to UNHCR’s Andreas Needham, is the growth has been “impressive compared with other refugee camps.”

Eighteen months after the camp’s establishment there were 2,500 shops, and 700 on the Champs-Elysées alone.

So while I’d argue that photography’s role is to give subjects a voice, gift or benefit (e.g. NOOR’s portrait studio) its role is also to usher audiences into the psychological territory of the subjects. The shops and shop-owners in Beyhum’s series are perfect vehicles in explaining to us far-away and comfortable consumers that the Za-atari refugee camp is a place of making do.

Beyhum’s images must remind us however that survival is only partly related to the aid-organisations’ food and shelter that provide physical security. Survival has as much to do with forging ones own spaces, purpose, pride and as a result psychological health.

What a refreshing foil to the photographs of desperate handout and sacks of rice being thrown from atop aid-trucks that we so often see in the media.

Please scroll down to read Dimechkie’s original text that accompanies these images. It provides important context.

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‘CHAMPS ELYSEES’ by NADIM DIMECHKIE

The salesman on the Champs-Elysées displays the shiny black shoes in neat, even rows. Each time the wind picks up, each time a truck roars past, they are drowned in billows of fine desert sand. And each time, the salesman dusts the sand off each shoe, wipes it down and places it back in line. Another cloud of sand may come along any moment, but the shoes will stay clean.

130,000 refugees are trying to make a living somewhere they do not wish to live. Most have left their homes, trades, families, and material possessions behind and they want to go back now. But until they do, they must manage with what they have left.

Father-son traditions fostered in the souks of Damascus and Aleppo, and preserved by the protectionism of successive Assad governments, are so ingrained they are almost instinctive. By one reckoning, 80% of the shops hark back to skills honed at home.

Where tradition fails, resourcefulness steps in. There are no cars here, and law and order is the preserve of the UN. So Abdul Mansoor, once a policeman in Syria, now makes phenomenal falafels. Omar was a car mechanic; now he sells second-hand clothes. Mounib established an impressive perfume shop — which he insists is nowhere near as good as the one his family ran in Syria for generations.

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Some jobs have been invented before anyone’s come up with a name for them. What do you call the kids who use wheelbarrows to help people with their shopping for tips, or to resell UNHCR blankets and tents so they can buy what they really need? What do you call the welder-joiners who fuse impossible things from impossible combinations of materials, or the makers of custom-made flat-bed trolleys designed to shift shipping-container homes between buyers and sellers?

Small gardens grow in infertile ground. Bottled water is still sold even though water filtration units have been closed down. Recently, someone stuck a whole police station on wheels and dropped it off somewhere they felt was more appropriate.

The ‘Mayor of Za’atari’, UN Special Field Coordinator Kilian Kleinschmidt, appreciates their entrepreneurial nature. Refugees are building their own amenities, like showers and toilets and kitchens. Even if this is sometimes using illicit materials, Kleinschmidt prefers to see refugees build facilities proactively than wait to receive them. Elements of their success are also down to other factors: there are 193 NGOs here, including UNHCR who provide blankets for warmth, containers for homes and security for business to thrive.

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Atallah revived the family bakery from Syria and set up shop in Za’atari.

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Some business-owners benefited from existing ties with Jordanian pre-war business partners and set up an enormous supermarket in the centre of Za’atari.

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Of course, not all of the attributes brought by the empty-handed are good ones. Fear has also followed them—of government informers, of ISIS informers, of the mafia. Criminality, which characterized the town of Dara’a from which many of the refugees fled, has followed many of them too.

A combination of good governance and the opportunity for dignity has quelled many of these less desirable elements, while providing opportunities for the better instincts to grow. For some, there is even excitement here—in the relative law and order, in the electricity (which some Syrian villagers had never had on tap before), in the entrepreneurial opportunities. But nobody wants to be here.

For all their ability to survive the present moment, no one can build lasting happiness here, for that would mean accepting their fate. Still, there is enough tradition and resourcefulness to make life bearable.

And there is always pride — another resource from within. Pride keeps the streets tidy and the wedding dresses moving. Pride keeps the homes orderly, the teenaged boys groomed and fragrant, the barbershops busy. Pride keeps the shoe salesman in business.

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All images: Toufic Beyhum
Introduction: Pete Brook
Text: Nadim Dimechkie

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No people, no explosions. Just heavy, damped-down, grounded-down city streets. Franco Pagetti‘s images of strategically positioned sheets in the Syrian city of Aleppo is powerful work.

From the VII Photo website:

Sheets line the devastated streets of Aleppo, Syria, acting as shields to obscure Free Syrian Army soldiers from the view of Bashar al-Assad’s security force snipers. Before the war, these sheets served a very different purpose as residents used them for privacy or to protect their homes from harsh weather. “Aleppo’s sheets serve the same purpose: they protect lives,” says Franco Pagetti. “But you’re always aware how fragile they are.”

It would be trite to say that the images look like stage sets and the sheets like backdrops; it evades the seriousness of the sheets’ necessity. It would be more appropriate to liken the sheets to those laid over the face of a body following death; huge covering-veils marking the death of a neighbourhood and its people.

Ultimately though, it is a cruel loop of irony inherent to these images that has me crushed.

Both photography (generally) and Aleppo’s sheets (specifically) are about vision and its manipulation. It is not necessary for these sheets to physically repel a bullet, they just need to negate the ability of a gunman to fire one.

And, even though it is fashionable these days to completely disown the notion that photography has agency to change attitudes, let alone directly change events (it would be insulting beyond measure to suggest photography could stop a war), we clamored for images of the conflict in Syria as it took hold in 2011 and 2012.

For many months, Syria’s war was top of the news-cycle; a surprisingly long time for our current attention spans. I think part of the persistent — almost nagging — interest was the fact that we were involved in debates about the veracity of citizens’ and fighters’ mobile footage. We wanted to know accurately of the events but we were also affronted by the fact “our” named journalists and outlets couldn’t or wouldn’t get into Syria.

Photographers such as Thomas Munita, Rodrigo Abd, Goran Tomasevic, Robert King, Jonathan Alpeyrie eventually got in and showed us the horrifying violence from both sides. Remi Ochlik died while he made photos in Homs in February 2012.

Today, nearly two-and-a-half years on from the start of the unrest, Pagetti’s work is a less frantic look at Aleppo; a look at the battered foundations of a city; at the persistent sadness of conflict; at the pathetic shreds that remain. It’s a requiem.

The sheets are death-masks and the fact they hang so poignantly and that Pagetti’s photographs are so poetic has me doubly crushed.

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