We are here to help
Nous somme là pour vous aider
Wir sind da um Ihnen zu helfen
Nahn huna li’iinqadh lakum
For several days we had no contact to the outside world because the Aquarius sailed just outside the satellite’s reach, down south along the Portuguese coast.
Again, the sea is very rough, the winds are blowing from the direction of the United States, the ship rolls, we’re trapped in a kind of limbo. Even in bed its hard to get rest, your body is rolled back and forth non-stop. In the dining hall we can no longer at soup, it spills over the rim of the plate.
With our help, Matthias has prepared the large room for those to be rescued – it looks very welcoming now! In the room next door are boxes of stuffed animals already awaiting the children. Many people have thought of different things – for example, In Bremen, a large order for a variety of life-saving equipment has been placed, which, amongst many other things, also includes s speed rescue boat with two outboard engines. This boat will be steered by Francis, he is the AB (able boatman) of the crew. We have spoken many times. He wants to become a filmmaker, like me, and is considering where this would be possible. His wife and two sons are in Ghana, and he told me that upon his return every few months, the first few moments at the airport are always a little hesitant, until the family becomes familiar with each other once again. It is certain that it is a great relief for the people in distress when they first encounter someone that can put himself into their shoes. In my head, I imagine the moment when people first see the great ship of sosmediteranee – it’s their first contact with Europe, this torn continent, which, at the same time, is associated with so much hope. And I imagine what that means for the images and opinions that will be formed, or not, during this first encounter. A few days ago, I was contacted by a Russian television station with the following to-do list:
We need you to film what is happening around you.
What we need: long shots: 20 shots, 20-40sec each. close-ups: same
interview with people in need: 4-5 shots, 1 minute each (where they are from, where do they go, what happened on their way)
your commentary close-up – 2-3shots, 1 min each – that should be someone filming you give your comments on what you’ve experienced and planning to do.
I think this email shows the extent of the problem the rescue operation is facing, because they appear to be the requirements for an action movie. Given the pictures that exist of previous rescues, one would, following this logic, have to try to be even closer, to produce even more blatant pictures, than everyone else. The best team would thuse be one from Hollywood: Steadycam, pure desperation, drone camera, children, underwater camera, the struggle for life and death, GoPro, white saviours, Zoom, a happy ending, quick cuts, music!
In this context, we watched the French film ‘Loin du Viêt-Nam’ ( ‘Far from Vietnam’, on youtube and highly recommended!). This film addresses the concerns of the uncertainty of image-finding. In ‘Vietnam beyond the images’ Burkhardt Wolf writes, that: “it is central not to rely on the impact and effect of war images themselves, but the dispute over the status, the framing and interrelations of image making.” Thus, this film examines the political no longer “on the terrain of image as a virtual battlefield”, but rather by controlling the supposed uniqueness of the image itself.
If (for the participating filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard) the represented world lost any meaning, then ‘representation’ itself draws all the attention. One would have to argue with Gilles Deleuze, that “filming not the world, but the belief in the world, our only agency ” is all that is left.
How this could become tangible is something we’ve discussing on board the Aquarius for days. Patrick, who photographed the Vietnamese boat people decades ago, argued that one should first document all that happens, and then internally select, prior to any publication. We are aware of the fact that recognizable faces of those rescued, not only creates a second form of exploitation, as their own image becomes associated with distress, but it might even mean that they people or their relatives back home are put in additional danger. In Syria, for example, escape is considered treason and is therefore punishable. Moreover, the question arises what it means to expose the suffering of ‘the others’ for the predominantly white skinned saviours themselves, namely the repetition of the century old colonial image “Out of Africa”.
In preparation for this blog I was sent the guidelines on “Ethics in donation mails” by the umbrella organization of German NGOs. I had hoped that it would provide me with a useful toolbox. They do indeed address some problematic aspects such as “The image of children”, “The direct gaze of the subject to the photographer”, personalized human interest stories, and address the general focus on “people in distress”. However, their conclusions are far convincing. The question of whether the individualized human interest story allows for any conclusions about the general larger challenges we are facing, which in our case is the failure and the deliberate inhumanity of pan-European policies and their underlying reasons, remain untouched.
On the other hand, sosmediteranee must also be able, through the use of images, not only document what donations are being used for, but also use said images to generate new donations.
Would it indeed be possible to ask filmed or photographed migrants in such extreme circumstances, for permission to disseminate their images? Certainly not.
Bluntly spoken: if TV teams would be allowed on board, who can guarantee that their images ultimately do not harm maybe even the rescue operation itself? We all know too well the laconic tone of television, and it’s addiction to the scandal.
We need to continue this discussion in Marseille, because this responsibility is great, and for most people in Europe, there will be nothing more than these images.
Twenty years ago John Perry Barlow in his ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’ reflected on a thought that was to be applied to the real world. It could be a motto for sosmediteranee and not last but not least their policy on imagery:
“We are creating a world which all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or place of birth.”
After all, why should people from poorer countries outside the EU not have the right to seek their fortune in Europe? In fact, free travel should apply to everyone. This inspired artist Mansour Ciss to create a ‘Global Passport’: “In the name of artistic creation, Mansour Ciss Kanakassy asks the relevant authorities to grant the holder of this document safe conduct and necessary assistance and protection”. The Austrian art magazine springerin explained, though the artist has not yet gotten around to setting up an order form.
Meanwhile, according to Aljazeera, grey inflatable refugee boats have been spotted in the Baltic Sea, making their way from Denmark to Sweden, wishing to join their family members. Also here, help is in sight – young Danish sailors are now transporting these fugitives across the icy sea from Copenhagen to Malmö, travelling along the bridge that only recently has been closed to refugees.
Christian von Borries, 16.2.2016