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Disposable Perspectives is a photography project that gives those affected by the refugee crisis the chance to document their own stories. Founder Amy Lineham presents a series of photographs taken by migrants in Paris.
In late 2016, I gave 15 disposable cameras to migrants at the then newly opened Porte de la Chapelle camp in northern Paris. My aim was to allow those living in the camp to record their experiences, offering a crucial alternative perspective to the media’s coverage of the refugee crisis in Europe.
In the end, only eight cameras were returned. One explanation for the loss of the seven other cameras is police brutality, an all too common experience that has been severely underplayed in the media. In a way, these losses tell as much of a story as the developed photos, with the instability of these people's lives reflected in the interruption of their participation in the project.
The developed photographs reframe the idea of those pictured as “victims” who exist only in the context of their circumstances. The elimination of any language barrier also creates a powerful sense of familiarity between photographer and viewer, highlighting a shared humanity often muted in mainstream reporting. Whether it’s an attempt to generate sympathy or create controversy, referring to the inhabitants of camps merely as a collection of statistics has often limited our understanding of the individual burdens they carry and detached public sympathy from the broader issue of migration. The 181 photographs displayed together are a crucial reminder that there are lives behind the numbers.
This is not the first time that this type of visual research has been employed by marginalised communities, “Photovoice” is a research methodology, developed in the 1990’s and influenced by feminist theory and empowerment. Communities document and interpret their own experiences - ultimately with the aim to incite informed, meaningful discussion and create change.
As well as the cameras, each participant was given two blank postcards on which they could write an accompanying message in their preferred language. The postcards that were returned were proof of a desire to use this experience as an opportunity to send vital messages out into the world. One card read: “Police don’t respect to the asylum seekers! Guys asylum seekers not animals, asylum seekers are people!” while another read: “Well maybe I’m not professional photographer but I know that what I done it means what I felt and I think photos is kind of art.” There were also heartfelt notes filled with acute longing, such as one titled Good Life in France and another ending with: “Thank you for giving me hope.”
The photos are currently touring the UK, having been exhibited in locations such as Edinburgh and Oxford. The most recent exhibition was on 23 March in Exeter, and another is planned in Cambridge. I am also currently developing a new series of images, looking at the experiences of migrants forced to flee Venezuela in the summer of 2017. The messages that accompany these photographs encapsulate the migrants’ reluctance to leave home and the alarming threats they faced.