Getting Across: Collaborative Illustrations of Life in The Waiting Room


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Photography can help raise awareness and elicit empathy for the matters at stake – even it might sometimes be necessary to bend the message towards a more subjective and conceptualised direction. Today, we – the ‘visually literate’ audience – are seemingly ready to accept alternative approaches to the photographic documentation of social issues, including migration. Here is a very interesting attempt:

In 2015, when a refugee camp settled in the Maximilian Park in the centre of Brussels, Maroussia Prignot (b. 1981, Belgium) & Valerio Alvarez (b. 1976, Belgium) decided to work together on a photographic project about the issue of asylum and the way in which migrants are received within the Belgian state. They went to a Reception Centre and got permission to enter and meet the people who are waiting for a response from the General Commissariat for Refugees and Stateless Persons. Their aim was to create a bond, an exchange of experience, a meeting.

Refusing to submit the refugees to further interrogation or to create stereotypical images of misery, over the period of three years Prignot & Alvarez have collected and appropriated all kinds of images, photos, drawings and administrative documents, making their subjects into co-authors of the project along the way. Slowly but surely, a mutual understanding evolved between the photographers and the people accommodated at the Reception Centre. Later, an improvised studio space inside the facility was built and the sitters were then invited to intervene in their portraits with markers and pastels.

Prignot & Alvarez, who are both initially trained in the field of mental health and having taken up photography only later in life, looked for the creation of a space, a method, that allowed close collaboration with the refugees in order to construct an image and tell their story. Without disqualifying a priori any form of image, the duo eventually arrived at producing a formally rich and inventive publication, offering an insightful perspective on humanity: Here, Waiting (Art Paper Editions, 2019).

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This is an excerpt. The full article has been published in GUP #63.


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