Beyond Reportage

There are a number of documentary photographers in Spain that have addressed the phenomenon of migrations in the country using an array of contemporary visual strategies. Many of them seem to have reconsidered in their personal projects the conventions of the classic photo essay and its role in shaping traditional representations.

While Luis Belmonte's La Dehesa series looks at the transitional nature of the camps built by the council of Albacete for the accommodation of migrant agricultural workers, Sebastián Conejo investigates in his Mezquitas the empty interiors of the areas reserved for communal prayer in the urban mosques of Catalonia. What might appear as a new set of typologies, these images are instead an invitation to contemplate the space and silence within the existing architecture and certainly beyond our own preconceptions. The quietness and serenity that both photographers are able to convey contrasts quite sharply with the social and political controversies surrounding the construction - and even the existence - of these shelters.

Many documentary photographers have also resorted to vernacular photography and turned their attention to the high street photo studio, the institutional archive or the family album. Seems that their scope is to bring about a strong sense of closeness and to highlight the fact that the individuals and communities have actively participated in the process of documentation. Instead of pressing the shutter, these photographers use their editing skills to browse through hundreds of images in albums, boxes and digital media. Picking up an image becomes a decisive moment in its own right and this is exactly the case with the work of Juan Valbuena. With the patronage of Casa Arabe cultural centre of Madrid, he has put together a great book and exhibition: Nosotros, Un álbum colectivo del barrio de Lavapiés.

Dinu Li and Judith Quax

The personal possessions of undocumented Chinese migrant workers in the north of England in the intimacy of their temporary accommodation is the subject in Dinu Li's project Secret Shadows.

Due to their legal status in the UK and their likely refusal to be photographed, Li investigates instead their lifestyle through their belongings and the stark simplicity of their rooms.

The photographer explores in these images notions of displacement, memory and identity as we are allowed to enter the privacy of the workers' rooms and to use our judgement and imagination to interpret the traces of their presence.

Although with a different rationale, Judith Quax has also placed these traces at the core of her subject matter.  She has photographed the rooms where young Senegalese men had lived before setting off for the Canary Islands in their quest to reach the European Union and join its workforce. The precarious fishing boats in which these men and women are trafficked carry up to 150 people in a journey that can take at least three days to complete.

Judith "talked to family and friends of the men, interested why the men made this perilous trip and to find out what happened to them. Some of them died, some of them reached Europe and from some of them there is no news". (via)

Ingar Krauss - Workers

Workers is a project concerned with "the difficult state of identity today in Eastern Europe, hard physical work and the problem of working migration in general". More than 300,000 labourers from Poland, Ukraine or Romania migrate to Germany every year. Their season starts with the asparagus harvest in April and ends with the gathering of cabbage and grapes in autumn.

Krauss adds: "The seasonal workers are mostly men, young and old. They come from different social levels and backgrounds. They live for weeks and months together in temporary shacks with double-decker beds. They work seven days a week and usually have no contact with the local Germans. Most of them don’t speak one word of German. The German farmers need them urgently; the whole harvest depends on these men from abroad because there are not enough Germans who are willing to do such underpaid and hard physical work. So thousands of harvest hands come and go every year like birds of passage".

"In summer 2006 and 2007 I took portraits of these workers who came to us a long way. I met them in the asparagus and strawberry fields, or in the evening sitting in front of their shacks".

You can see the complete series and an interview with the photographer in Lens Culture

Teresa Eng - Conditions for Living

Teresa Eng is a Canadian photographer based in London. She is an MA Photography graduate from the London College of Communication and her latest work, Conditions for Living, explores the temporary settlements of northern France from where many individuals attempt to reach the UK.

She states: "As foreigners in a foreign land, these migrants are neither here nor there. They arrive on the edges of town overnight, attempting to assimilate themselves into a new and strange environment. There is the tedium that occurs while being in-transit but also the anticipation and hope of what they perceive will one day be ‘home’."

All pictures ©Reinaldo Loureiro et alii