In the journey of a refugee, identity starts to become a point of contention. Those who have lived in a country their entire lives are removed by force or flee before the force arrives, and have to find a safer home. As Europe has seen, watching the overcrowded boats arrive and sink on the continent’s shores, specific nationalities start to disappear, and in the media all are blurred beneath the same words: refugee, immigrant, homeless masses. Identity is stripped, and with the generalisations and the ignorance comes the risk of being lost. Of being forgotten, as so many already have. Without a conscious effort to record, to pay attention, then the refugee is simply another news story for most, and no names are retained.
‘Migrate’, an exhibition being held in London Bridge, is a part of the effort to remember. Eight international photographers will have their images of those who have struggled to reach the UK put on display, beginning today and on show until the 2nd September. Each of the photographs by the artists have been captured with Polaroid cameras, and provide glimpses into a number of lives. Alice Eady photographed Ashaluul on a bus. Jack Harris’s shot is of Mahamri, a refugee from Sudan, posing with a football atop his head, while Cyrus Mahboubian’s polaroid is of a simple warning sign, given a new significance in the context of the exhibition, and perhaps the most striking of the collection. The use of Polaroid cameras for the work provides the shots with a candid nature, but there is beauty in each, a genuine respect for the subjects of the pictures.
Many responses are being made, and will continue to be made for years to come, to the refugee crisis currently taking place. Novels, short stories, poetry, songs and paintings will come out of the violence and loss, but it is perhaps with photography that the most hope lies for people to see the refugees as people and not faceless masses or, depending on the audience, invaders. More than any medium, the photograph is an instant response and arguably the most accessible of forms, especially when it comes to the political. ‘Migrate’ is part of an effort that needs to succeed, otherwise more and more of those looking for help will disappear, either physically or through that terrifying prospect of losing one’s cultural identity.