This isn’t the perfect photobook; what it is, is an important one. Shot over one year in the northern Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Jungle camp in Calais and cities such as Berlin and Vienna, Foreigner: Migration into Europe 2015-2016 records the fate of some of the men, women and children caught up in the so-called Migrant Crisis. Many of the images are documentary but it’s emphatically not an attempt to create an objective report, instead it advocates hard on its subjects’ behalf. Including sensitive portraits and scenes from everyday life rather than focusing solely on dramatic scenes or flimsy boats washing up in Italy and Greece, it takes a step beyond the standard photojournalism and urges the reader to think of the individuals not the sheer numbers involved.
The photographer, Daniel Castro Garcia, and his creative partner, the designer Thomas Saxby, felt compelled to start the project after reading the dehumanising reports of ‘swarms’ of ‘invaders’ so popular in British newspapers over the past year. Their project offers a powerful riposte to this one-sided rhetoric, and at 240 pages its sheer size is sobering. Divided into three sections, it records the routes into Europe through Italy, Greece and the Balkans, plus the Calais camp known as The Jungle, and gives the reader a feel for what the biggest movement of people since World War Two actually looks like. “The more we got into it the more we wanted to give this full, rounded picture of the whole thing. It is a massive task, and we’re not necessarily done, but we felt it all fed into understanding the picture – you now the ‘what-the-hell-is-going-on’, all these people leaving, all this shit going on, the sheer scale of it,” Castro told me in an interview for the BJP.
For me, some of the most disturbing scenes are from the Balkan route, when, in a field between Slovenia and Austria at night in November, a group of refugees, including babies and children, were forced to burn trees to keep warm. It’s shocking to think this took place in Europe – and even worse, though perhaps not surprising, that they were in the context of shamefully selfish newspaper articles such as Katie Hopkins’ infamous comment for The Sun on 17 April. “Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad,” she wrote. “I still don’t care.”
Castro and Saxby made and self-published their book fast, keen to get it out while migration was still in the news and, in particular, while it was still being so negatively reported. As a result Foreigner has a sense of urgency rather than of steely perfection – there are some images I might have left out, some texts that read as polemic. No matter. It has proved how pertinent a photobook can be in a contemporary debate, and therefore how politically engaged. Until now photographers have tended to use self-publishing because of the creative freedom it offers, or because they had no other option; in creating this timely intervention, Castro and Saxby have suggested a more radical potential.
– reviewed for Photomonitor by Diane Smyth
Foreigner: Migration into Europe 2015-2016 by John Radcliffe Studio is available via MACK.