WHO LIVES HERE?
by Lina Manousogiannaki


One of the ritual passages of age in ancient times was the survival outside the community. Youths had to spend time into the wild, overcome natural problems and fight to survive in order to be accepted as citizens of equal rights when they returned to the city. Without armour, alone and only equipped with a dagger, male youths faced the mighty forces of nature in order to be a part of the organised city, have political status, procreate and be proud citizens with responsibilities and rights.

Centuries have passed and our society has evolved along with our technology. Human cities have become metropolises. People can now move with the help of technology from one place to the other in some hours. In the dawn of the 21st century humanity faces challenges that are not new but are now incredibly large in numbers. Huge waves of people are moving from certain regions to new places. Reasons for those moves are wars and destruction of natural resources as well as the less mentioned climate change. They are the nomads of the 21st century. People move towards Europe in order to find a better life, escape war, save what there is to save from destruction currently occurring in territories they used to occupy.

One could argue that this fact is the result of Western policies over the centuries; overexploitation of Africa’s natural resources and people, maintaining conflict in the Middle East and undermining prosperity in those regions for profit. It started with national policies and colonialism to end up in the worst form of corporate esclavage of whole regions.

All of these people who are now crossing borders want to live free from war, hunger, fear. During the passages shelter is abandoned buildings along the road, forests, anything which could protect their heads and offer a hide out for some hours. However, often there is blockage. The creation of some kind of settlement can be created in certain strategical spots and people would sum up. They form settlements and they organise communities in order to face natural problems, as well as a variety of other problems usually related with local, indigenous communities while waiting for the crossing. We chose four photographers who have worked with the subject and we present here their work.

'Exile Aesthetics' by the Serbian Dušan Rajić is consisted of two separate projects. One part is involved with people who are coming “illegally” from Far East heading to the “rich” West. During that time they were stationed in outskirts of Subotica (which is located on the northern part of Serbia, closest to the Hungarian border) hiding and waiting for their lucky crossing to EU. The second part documents the mainly “illegal” Roma housing and settlements in Belgrade which was part of Dušan interest in homeless and marginalized groups living in the city. Thanks to a friend the photographer Dušan was lucky enough to be included in that fragile community which consisted of a total of about 300 – 500 people hidden in the “Jungle” as they called it, and to develop his personal consciousness on the role of photography. «You can’t transfer pain, happiness, and hunger through photos. You are just trying to pass the experience along to others. Not only photos but videos, stories are not enough to experience what others have lived and been through. As a media it can’t bring you out this emotion. We can either ignore it or feel sympathy for it. So at the end I don’t know if these images transfer any emotion to others or are they just what we want to look at, something strange and different as long as it’s not happening to us.»  


© Dušan Rajić from the series 'Exile Aesthetics'


© Dušan Rajić from the series 'Exile Aesthetics'


© Dušan Rajić from the series 'Exile Aesthetics'

Idomeni (Greek: Ειδομένη) is a small village in Greece, near the borders with the FYROM. The village is built in an elevation of 65 meters, in the outskirts of Kouri hill. It mounts in the West bank of Axios river. The village is interwoven with a railway station, which is the first railway station that someone meets entering Greece from the North. Since 2014, refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries of the Middle East began to crowd to Idomeni in order to pass the Greek borders in order to continue their journey to Western Europe. In late 2015, FYROM decided to close and guard its borders by military force in order to prevent the refugees by entering the country. Thus thousand of refugees ended stuck in an improvised camp in Idomeni. This vast camp is mainly set in the fields near the international railway network. This informal border camp has become a constantly deteriorating dystopia for those fleeing war and crisis, searching for a better and safer future. At the same time, this border site is a display of the image of Europe’s inability to manage and resolve this unprecedented flow of refugees. The series '(Un)settled territory' by Orestis Seferoglou is about the definition of being unsettled, the lacking stability, worried and uneasy, liable to change; unpredictable, not yet resolved
. It's about people not yet inhabitants. 


© Orestis Seferogiou from the series '(Un)settled territory'


© Orestis Seferogiou from the series '(Un)settled territory' 


© Orestis Seferogiou from the series '(Un)settled territory' 

The project 'camp inn***' developed in 2016 for the exhibition 'Lying in Between – Hellas' at Fondazione Fotografia di Modena was also shoot in Idomeni. So writes the Italian photographer Simone Mizzotti: «No intimacy, no privacy is allowed here. They survive, constantly sitting, one or more families, splitting the idea of a house with great dignity, focusing on the physical needs: eating and sleeping above all. Tired souls share the hot of the day, trying to find shelter from the Greek sun, and the cold and the insomnia of the night, through anonymous blankets distributed by some charity organizations. They have adapted the passage of time to the few square meters they have. They have built their forts, in which they wash and hang out clothes, listen to their own music from their smartphones, cut tomatoes and potatoes at the entrance and play cards to kill time. “Try to live here.” Ahmad is 32 and lives in a tent with 5 people more. He is from Aleppo, Syria, and is very disheartened and hardened as everyone at his age. “If I could choose between coming back to Syria or staying here, I would prefer to come back to Syria. It’s better dying under the bombs rather than dying slowly as we do here. Every day we are witnesses of a costant humiliation” he tells raising his voice “It’s full of humans here, but there is no humanity.”»


© Simone Mizzotti from the series 'camp inn***'


© Simone Mizzotti from the series 'camp inn***'


© Simone Mizzotti from the series 'camp inn***'

The Dutch photographer Henk Wildschut has developed specific series on immigrants and borders. The project 'Borders' is about the stories of hundreds of undocumented immigrants trying to cross at Ventimiglia the border between Italy and France. 'Shelter' is a long term project (2006 - 2009) on the so called 'Jungle' close to the port of Calais, an area encompassing a few hundred square metres. The people occupying this area have travelled many miles to get there, and their journey is still not at an end. Calais is the departure point for the final and most desirable crossing. There are thousands of people from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria, all in search of a better life in Britain, the destination of their dreams. 

While they await the opportunity to make the great crossing, they build temporary shelters: tent-like structures made of waste material from the immediate surroundings of the camp. In the best cases, the cultural characteristics of the country of origin can barely be distinguished in these. As Wildschut put it: «the way in which the primary requirements of life are manifested in such shelters forms the leitmotif of this documentary photography project, for which the photoI travelled extensively to Calais, the south of Spain, Dunkirk, Malta, Patras and Rome. For me, the image of the shelter – wherever it is in Europe – became the symbol of the misery these refugees experience.» 'Ville de Calais' is the continuation of the 'Shelter' series. In the weekend of 25 March 2015, an estimated 500 residents of the old “Jungle” in the woods relocate to the new camp in the dunes. From June 2015, the camp really starts to grow. The Dutch photographer is there with his camera. «Every time I visit the camp, I hardly recognise it. From the ring road embankment you have a good view of the camp. This is where the police stand on look-out.»


© Henk Wildschut from the series 'Shelter'


© Henk Wildschut from the series 'Shelter'


© Henk Wildschut from the series 'Shelter'


© Henk Wildschut from the series 'Shelter'

An archaeological excavation is above all a collection of evidence of human activity. These areas fulfil certain characteristics which allow human activity. Water is nearby, fields to cultivate food and mountains or hills to feed the animals. Sometimes the sea is nearby, fact which guarantees communication with other places, and a variety of activities.

The settlements we see in the work of these photographers offer a visualization of a certain activity that has and is taking place currently. They offer the whole picture of an organised community of... clandestine humans. But the difference with the traditional settlement is that these communities flourish in passage spots. They are settlements in “awaiting”.

The spectator can see for themselves how the “subjects” have organised their temporary community. What have they used for materials of construction in order to protect themselves? One can observe “another way of living outside traditional architecture.” I might add: a different way of living outside traditional western rules? These settlements have habitants who are in permanent transit. This is something that never escapes the minds of these people because they can not afford to miss the opportunity of the transition. Thus, even if we have a city, as Calais was often called, even a plastic one and an assembly of people, the inevitable question that pops to mind is how do these people co-exist? Since the settlements are strongly connected to an expectation of getting out it is not so hard to understand that there will not be any organisation of a city-like situation, but rather of groups of people. So, how do these groups of people interact?

Looking at the photo essays a realisation occurs to me: even if the reality is that of an escape, if we dig a bit deeper we realise that these settlements have some kind of order. These unorthodox cityscapes are divided in quarters just as any ordinary settlement would be. The Afghans live in different spots than the Iraqis or the Syrians etc. The families are elsewhere than the single men (there are no single women moving). Shopping areas are created as well as religious spots, where communication with the holly is seeked. Designated areas of certain activities are born within the limits of these “towns”. And I discover to my surprise that human settlements do display some pattern around which they develop, they organise, they exist. These are not “jungles”!

These images are challenging to us because they raise questions. How far can we stretch our humanitarian feelings and really implicate ourselves in such situations? And if we were honest with our system wouldn’t we demand rights for them? Wouldn’t we protest to political choices which have led to this situation? Or are we just going to watch these tents as they become houses and then back to relics of lives that used to live here, drowning in oblivion, the few who escaped the Mediterranean?

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READINGS
'Homo Sacer' by Giorgio Agamben (essay)
'Regarding the pain of others' by Susan Sontag (essay)
'The Black Hunter' by Pierre Vidal-Naquet (history)
'Ville de Calais' by Henk Wildschut (photobook)
'Le Havre' by Aki Kaurismaki (film)
'America America' by Elia Cazan (film)

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LINKS
Simone Mizzotti
Dušan Rajić
Orestis Seferoglou
Henk Wildschut