Questions to the Migrant Image Research Group

Migrant Image R esearch Group
An Image – A Statement

The Migrant Image Research Group is composed of the illustrators Emilie Josso, Paula Bulling, Haitham El-Seht, and Mohammed El-Seht, the photographers Andreas Langfeld and Karolina Sobel, the artists Lisa Bergmann and Leon Kahane, the photo historian Estelle Blaschke, the graphic designers Elisa Calore, Ina Kwon, Valeria Malito and Helmut Völter, and the publishers Jan Wenzel and Anne König, who, together with Armin Linke, have been the project’s artistic directors since 2014.

The project of the Migrant Image Research Group started with the idea of challenging the already existing images of migrants in order to find other images and new ways of representing their stories. Their purpose is to study the images and representations of migration that circulate in the media as well as to provide testimonies from outside the mass media. They work to contextualize the ways in which this imagery functions that arises from the migration via the island of Lampedusa. An important methodological approach has been to use drawings to obtain a view of photography from
the outside. “Now more than ever, the photographic image needs drawing and illustration as a counterpart. The act of translating reality, the quanta of interpretation, stylization, and imagination inscribed in every sketch may make drawing, in the current historical moment, a more trustworthy medium, a means of representation that is more suited to the complexity of the world today than photography“, writes Jan Wenzel in the book Lampedusa – Image Stories from the Edge of Europe .

Before the book will be published at the end of October 2017, a selection of the photo-graphic novels and the accompanying material are right now on display at the Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie. We would like to take this opportunity to ask the members of the Migrant Image Research Group about their experiences and their most significant perceptions by engaging with the collected material and testimonies of the people.

Elisa Calore

Photo: Karolina Sobel, Lampedusa, May 2016 © Karolina Sobel

Before taking a picture a professional photographer makes some important decisions about the subject, the perspective, the framing, the composition, the audience. What we tried to look at is the hidden amount of photographies on a topic that overwhelms our media, taken by all those who do not pay too much attention to the list above.

We reached the island of Lampedusa, we looked for people involved with migrants, we looked for migrants, we talked with them and asked them to open their personal archives. As behind a photograph there's a relationship between the photographer and the subject, our research is based on relationships. One of the most significant moment was the talk with Paola La Rosa, a strong Sicilian woman who asked to not record our meeting. She spoke about the migrants themselves who should be interviewed. She suggested us: If you want to speak about someone get in touch with him directly. Photographies do not just show the subject, but they deeply engage us with it. Photographies ask for act. They can change what we see, depending on the reason of being of the photo, but also on who's looking.

Anne König

Foto: Foto von dem Zivilflugzeug Moonbird während einer Rettungsaktions im Mittelmeer 29. April 2017 © Moonbird

During the interview with the researcher and filmmaker Charles Heller he showed us an image which was at first sight not at all spectacular. It was an image of a boat at the Mediterranean Sea taken from a civilian aircraft during Easter 2017. This particular boat was in contact with the Watch The Med Alarm Phone .
But they lost contact with it and it was not detected—it was lost. The civilian aircraft took the picture and could send the picture itself and the coordinates to one of the civilian rescue boats, and the boat was rescued. The aim of this aircraft was not to produce an image, rather the image was part of its practice of rescue, as Charles Heller explained it to us. I like this particular image because it was taken to save lives and nothing else.

Haitham El-Seht und Mohammed El-Seht

From: From Cairo to Rasheed, 2017 © Haitham El-Seht, Mohammed El-Seht

As a comic artist it is more easy while the story line comes from Comic methodology. The challenge of this project was that at the beginning it was only based on a photography. So later on this combination gave us the opportunity to get more involved in the topic of migrations with different points of view.

Paula Bulling

Sketchbook of Paula Bulling © Paula Bulling

As an illustrator I have been dealing with the topics of migration and asylum for several years. When illustrating the ways of a commodity for the Lampedusa-book, the biggest challenge was to synthesize the many different photographic sources into a graphic handwriting that could contain them all, spanning centuries, countries and locations as different as the womb of a fishing boat and the Facebook headquarters. I have been asked many times to draw people's journeys across the Mediterranean, and have always refused. To place a wooden plank in the centre of the story allowed us to look at things from a different angle, literally.