Every day, more than 50,000 people leave home on a quest born of despair. Their decision may have come gradually over years or in an instant, triggered by the forces of nature or of man: disasters, violence, persecution, poverty. Their holy grail? A fresh start. What we call them depends on their situation and ours: migrants, immigrants, refugees – or names far worse. Some board boats or buses, trains or trucks. Many rely on the mode of transportation no one can deny them: their feet. Their journey may be long and can be lethal; their landing rarely is smooth.
The toll of displacement is reflected in their eyes: the worry of a Guatemalan mother cradling her baby as she heads north; the longing of a Tajik working construction in Russia; the fear of a Moroccan wedged under a car, hiding from Spanish police; the concentration of Kurdish refugees straining to learn Italian.
You see that and more in the images of four photographers, who set out on their own quests to document this journey, sometimes as a sidelight to full-time jobs. All four were finalists this year for Activist Awards from Catchlight, a nonprofit that supports photography focused on the key issues of our times.
One of them, Russian photographer Ksenia Diodorova, explains what motivated her to retrace the steps of Moscow’s migrant workers back to the families and deprivation they left behind in Tajikistan: “I wanted to convey a sense of the duality of immigrant experience: the fundamental longing for home and family, blood and soil, and the variances of coldness and warmth that define those in search of a better future.”
Ksenia Diodorova, ‘In the Cold’
Ksenia Diodorova is a documentary photographer and graphic designer based in St. Petersburg, Russia. She graduated from the St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University with a concentration in visual communication design. Since 2006, she has led the visual communication studio Gonzo Design and the school of alternative education programs. For the last five years, she also has worked as a freelance photographer, developing independent long-term multimedia projects with a focus on discovering people who conserve their strong identities. “In the Cold” grew from her awareness of Russians’ intolerance toward migrants from Central Asia. She wanted to contrast their lives in Russia with the lives of those they left behind.
Michelle Frankfurter, ‘Destino’
Michelle Frankfurter was born in Jerusalem and spent nearly two decades in Central America, beginning in the late 1980s. She first gathered testimony from survivors of attacks by the anti-Sandinista rebel Contras in Nicaragua for the human rights organization Witness for Peace, then became a stringer for Reuters. In 1990, after 10 years of war and sustained political pressure from the United States, the Sandinistas lost the elections. Frankfurter spent much of that year documenting the transition of power. It was among many conflicts that have ravaged the region, and “Destino” follows migrants displaced by those conflicts. It is a journey both concrete and figurative.
Sergi Cámara, ‘The Wall of Europe’
Sergi Cámara studied photography at the Institute of Photographic Studies of Catalonia in Spain and worked in local media for six years. In 2001, wanting to delve more deeply into stories, he began working as a freelance photographer and later founded a group of documentary photographers, Pandorafoto. His personal work focuses on migration from Africa to Europe and refugees in various countries, with a particular interest in the places overlooked by other photographers. “The Wall of Europe” documents desperate efforts to reach one of those places – Melilla, a Spanish city bordering Morocco, which he has visited 30 times in the past decade.
Laura Santopietro, ‘Azadi Freedom’
Born in Rome in 1980, Laura Santopietro studied graphic design, photo editing and publishing. She began integrating photography into her work three years ago, after studying photojournalism with Fausto Podavini in Rome. She has worked at Mediatools.net, an advertising agency, since 2008. She began “Azadi Freedom” in 2012 with Federica Araco and Paolo Fumanti to give voice to asylum seekers and refugees of a minority diaspora, the Kurds, who were virtually unknown in Italy. Neither recognized in their original country nor fully welcomed in Italy, they live suspended between two worlds, in a continuous state of waiting.