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Theory & Practice

Photographing a Crisis

A guide through the ethics and considerations of documenting the migrant crisis

Magnum Photographers

Alex Majoli On May 9, this boat carrying 528 refugees from Libya, broke apart on the coast of Lampedusa. At least 1,680 have died en route between April and June. Lampedusa, Italy. 2011. © Alex Majoli | Magnum Photos
Paolo Pellegrin Wooden boats are seen after the evacuation of migrants. The members from the MSF ship, Bourbon Argos removed the boats’ engines and spray-painted messages on the decks saying that a rescue had bee (...)
Chris Steele-Perkins Refugees in the desert at the Sha-alaan One camp. Orderly food lines with thousands of refugees waiting calmly for food distribution from the Caritas charity organization. Jordan. 1990. © Chris Steele-Perkins | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography The Shaar Aliyah reception center for newly arrived refugees. Near Haifa, Israel. 1950. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Chris Steele-Perkins Refugees possessions in the desert. Jordan. 1990. © Chris Steele-Perkins | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography East European immigrants arriving by boat in the harbor. Haifa, Israel. 1950. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Newly arrived refugees at Haifa harbor being transported to a receiving camp of Shaar Aliyah. Haifa, Israel. 1950. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Paolo Pellegrin Eritrean migrants, who were rescued at sea by a ship hired by MSF. Médecins Sans Frontières, are seen on deck as the ship transports them to Reggio Calabria, Italy. Mediterranean Sea. July 27, 2015. © Paolo Pellegrin | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography The Parod immigrant transit camp. Galilee, Israel. 1950. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography The loading of the luggage of newly arrived immigrants by boat from Europe, at the reception center near Haifa. Israel. 1950. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Patrick Zachmann Immigrants emerge from the camp for another attempt to cross the Channel and enter Britain illegally. Sangatte, Pas-de-Calais, France. February 29, 2001. © Patrick Zachmann | Magnum Photos
Thomas Dworzak Refugees, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan walk unhindered through a gap in the Hungarian border fence on a defective railway line but are collected for processing by Hungarian authorities. Those (...)
Philip Jones Griffiths Refugee from US bombing during the Battle for Saigon. Vietnam. 1968. © Philip Jones Griffiths | Magnum Photos
Paolo Pellegrin Syrian father with his daughter in the Kara Tepe refugee camp three kilometers outside Mytilini. Lesbos, Greece. 2015. © Paolo Pellegrin | Magnum Photos
Alex Majoli Refugees wait for nightfall in the small town near the border before trying to cross to France again. Ventimiglia, Italy. 2011. © Alex Majoli | Magnum Photos
Mark Power Sports facility in the Azraq Syrian Refugee Camp. First opened in April 2014, Azraq is currently a temporary home to 40,000 Syrian refugees, although it has the capacity to house 130,000. Jordan. O (...)

Magnum’s coverage of the movement of displaced people stretches back to the post-war Europe captured by Magnum founders Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David ‘Chim’ Seymour, and goes right up to the present day. The world is currently experiencing the largest movement of people since World War II, with recent figures from the UN stating that 65.3 million people, or one person in 113, were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015. These kinds of figures and the myriad individuals with stories that make them up have spurred Magnum to once again explore migration.

This recent work includes Paolo Pellegrin’s ‘Desperate Crossings’ series, Jérôme Sessini’s studies of the Calais Jungle, Alex Majoli’s documenting of the refugee crisis in Greece and Africa, Mark Power’s explorations of refugee camps, and Matt Black’s tracing of aid from depot to drop-off point. “We have a responsibility to think not just about what’s going in one particular place at one particular time; it is very important to capture as many ends of this story as possible,” says Magnum’s Executive Director David Kogan.

 

Alex Majoli A refugee waits during a police investigation. French authorities frequently arrest refugees who are then likely to face repatriation to Italy, their point of entry into the country. Menton, Franc (...)
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Arriving immigrants. Near Haifa, Israel. 1949-1950. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Patrick Zachmann On the road at night, a small family of illegal immigrants which fled the Taliban, has succeeded to cross the Aegean sea from the Turkish border and reached Lesbos. They are happy to be in Europe b (...)

In the first of a series of talks spanning Magnum’s 70th year, The Barbican, London hosted a panel where key players in the documentation of migration photography discussed issues affecting them, from the motivation to shoot migration to the practical and ethical concerns that come with capturing it. Here, we present some of the thinking that surrounds the documentation of the migrant crisis.

Mark Power Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp. First opened in July 2012, Zaatari is currently a temporary home to 80,000 Syrian refugees. Near Mafraq, Jordan. October 20, 2015. © Mark Power | Magnum Photos
Mark Power Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp. Near Mafraq, Jordan. October 23, 2015. © Mark Power | Magnum Photos
Mark Power Man in his garden in the Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp. Near Mafraq, Jordan. October 23, 2015. © Mark Power | Magnum Photos

A Duty to Record

In the face of human suffering, being equipped with nothing but a camera can leave a photographer feeling “helpless” – the word of Magnum’s Mark Power, who photographed the Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps in Jordan in 2015. But Power, photographers like him, and the agencies who commission them, are driven by a sense of duty, not only to tell the human story but to create an historical record. “I believe strongly in photography as a mark of history to carry forward to future generations to learn from,” says Power. “Marking history for the future is very much part of my agenda so I try to be as objective as one can be in a situation like that.”

Paolo Pellegrin Eritrean migrants are seen in their boat as they are about to be rescued by MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières). The MSF-hired ship, named 'Bourbon Argos', was patrolling the waters off of Libya when it (...)

The Power of the Single, Still Image

While footage from European borders or inside refugee camps is beamed into television screens with such regularity that there is a danger of it inducing compassion fatigue, the still photograph is a pause point. It presents a moment to stop and consider. The people in the photograph cannot walk out of shot, out of focus and out of the viewers mind, but are preserved in a visual document. “The images later become artefacts; they come to hold some sort of power,” says David Kogan.

Chris Steele-Perkins Refugees engulfed in a sandstorm in the Sha-alaan One camp. Jordan. 1990. © Chris Steele-Perkins | Magnum Photos

Dignity and Consent

Amnesty’s Steve Symonds says that respect for the individual depicted in the image should be a key concern for both the photographer at the point of taking the photograph and for the editors and media companies who might eventually make use of it: “We’re very cautious at Amnesty to avoid the use of images where we think people – dead or alive – are robbed of their agency and presented merely as victims. It becomes extremely difficult to engage with someone about what the consequences of giving their image or story might be before they have got to a destination, before they have resolved the circumstance that has driven them to be on the move.”

Paolo Pellegrin Eritrean migrants are seen in their boat as they are about to be rescued by MSF. Approximately 10-15 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, Mediterranean Sea. July 27, 2015. © Paolo Pellegrin | Magnum Photos

Safety of the Subject

While the benefits of telling the stories of migrants through photography may be to enhance public understanding, empathy and perhaps even effect policy change, the publication of the images can carry a risk for those depicted. For instance, many of the people Amnesty International talks to have families elsewhere, often back in the countries from which they have fled, facing the same risks from which they are fleeing. Using images of these people in campaigns or press may put these family members in danger.

The organizations publishing this material must also be aware of the particular message their use of it gives. For Amnesty, this puts images published by them within the context of their prominent position as a campaigner of human rights. “We are heavily associated with countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea. We are strong advocates against human rights abuses and therefore being too publically associated with individual people who may have family back home is potentially is a risk for family members,” explains Amnesty’s Steve Symonds.

Read about more discussions from the Magnum Photos Now events here.