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Romanticising the Crisis

First Forum for Arab Photographers, Palace of the Arts, Egypt - 2017

In early September 2015, a photograph of a drowned child lying face-down on a beach went viral on social media as well as news feeds, soon to become an iconic representation of the Syrian refugee crisis. 


Bearing in mind that photography is a process of selection to specific aspects of reality at a given moment, humanitarian photography highlighting extreme suffering to enhance sympathy can be justified as moral rhetoric. Yet, the widespread of this anguishing image may have led to an overexposure, thus turning from inducing moral action towards the complete picture, into raising moral questions around humanitarian actors capitalizing on Alan Kurdi’s tragic fate in their campaigns, and eventually questioning authenticity of the narrative. 


The debate took me from researching the history of humanitarian photography of extreme misery to further research into the history of post mortem photography. Searching through Victorian archives I came across Linda Nagler’s “The Hidden Mother”*, archiving yet another widely practiced Victorian photography trick, where a parent would serve as a hidden background for a child’s photo-shoot. The parent would endure being disguised as a piece of furniture covered by a cloak, to keep the child still for the needed duration of photo exposure at the time, thus willingly disappearing for their child’s moment of glory. The resulting images however reflected a high sense of mortality.


A third incentive for building my collection, was an observation of “romantic” terms used to describe refugees fleeing the civil war through the see. Words as “flow”, “flood” and “flux” referred to a fluidity of sailing, disregarding the prolific number of victims.


“Romanticising the Crisis” is a collection of digital photomontages that question media narratives, by exchanging roles of three main elements; the dead child as main subject of media focus, the hidden mother as the overlooked aspect of the crisis, and the sea.


*Nagler, Linda Fregni, The Hidden Mother, Co-published by Mack and Nouveau Musee National de Monaco, 2013

About the Forum:

The forum invited 200 photographers and media artists representing 14 Arab countries, to showcase their work and engage in active discussions around related topics.

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