La Linea Invisibile is a discussion by guest speaker Danilo Balducci which brings together the Translation, Adaptation and Performance, Picturing Others, and Conflict, Development and Disaster research themes at the School of Modern Languages.
This lecture was broken up into 3 separate video displays of Danilo’s work. The above video is available on youtube and is the first in the series of photo presentations that we watched. Most of it is in Lesbos although some of the migrants were in Calais. Danilo travelled with migrants from Rome to Germany, very often fleeing the police alongside them. He continued to work on the situation in Italy which was a dramatic situation. In 2015 and 2016 the Balkan route was picking up and he followed this. In Lesbos the numbers were immense with 1000s gathering there. By travelling with migrants Danilo produced photography that wasn’t sterile. He was pulling people out of the sea, crossing rivers and crossing mountains. He made connections with people that he still maintains.
On occasion the camera had to stay put where Danilo made the decision not to take pictures. For example when a woman was giving birth on the shore, he felt that it was too intimate a moment. However, there were some controversial images that he felt he needed to take. The dead young girl which was just a string of 14 dead migrants found that day, illustrates how difficult the migration passage could be. The problem with these deaths was that they were selling fake life jackets. They were full of absorbent material and had no buoyancy. Those who had money could buy authentic, proper ones. These deaths were the result of human, criminal folly.
With regard to photography, it’s not about technique but more about empathy. It’s the ability to connect with people and to have boundaries. If somebody says: “Please do not take a picture” you must respect that.In a camp of 12000 people there can be much crying and screaming in distress. This affects you and Danilo found that he required psychological treatment. He recorded the sounds of the camps on his phone – he even captured the shots – the rubber bullets that were fired. The bloody face in the photographs comes from the shootings. On one day alone, 160 tear gas canisters were fired. They were Soviet-era Russian canisters that were out of date. Danilo had no gas mask and after taking pictures of these scenes his beard disappeared and wouldn’t grow for several months.
Every time Danilo visited a camp something would happen. The other journalists used to definitely attend if Danilo was going along as they knew something dramatic would happen. Although the majority of migrants were from Syria, some were from Afghanistan and Pakistan where there is not technically a war so the people couldn’t claim asylum and were thus economic migrants.
In the next chapter of Danilo’s tale he was with migrants in the Balkans, witnessing constant attempts to cross the Serbian / Croatian border and also the Bosnian / Croatian border. In winter 2017 in Belgrade there were 2-3000 people sleeping in empty railway depots. To keep warm they would burn plastic or railway sleepers. These were often soaked in oil or other chemicals. The most striking thing for Danilo in his photography was noticing how the migrants needed to focus on something to keep them human. This was the ability to wash. This is something that we take for granted. He would capture photographs of them showering in the snow in temperatures of minus 20 degrees Centigrade.
In his photographs there was no post production – no photoshopping. He changed from movement to stasis.
What were the audiences reactions to the work? Do they react how Danilo imagines?
It depends on the people. There were a couple of episodes where he was proven correct. In reality pictures don’t tell you anything. These are people and not migrants. Even though the pictures get into you they do not let you smell the smells. Photos haven’t really changed anything apart from on the odd episode.
In the North of Serbia there was a small camp. Most people in the camp had there legs and arms in bandages. Why were there so many injured people? They were trying to cross the Serbian / Hungarian border at night. One time a smuggler came after Danilo and he had to flee. The injuries were due to the Hungarian police unleashing the dogs. German Shepherds have a nasty bite!
On the Bosnian / Croatian border the police would be bashing people and breaking their mobiles. The migrants would walk 50km in the forest and have injured feet. They called the journey and the crossing ‘The Game’. Sometimes people would make 30-40 attempts to cross. The police employed drones, dogs and had night vision goggles. The police were ahead of the game.
Danilo was arrested at the Serbian / Croatian border even though he wasn’t a migrant himself but a European citizen.
This lecture was well presented and the photographs we saw were astounding. Danilo Balducci’s story is one that must be heard. It was really moving to hear the plight of the migrants, of these poor people who are less fortunate than us. It was a surprise that such suffering can go on in Europe, on our doorstep.