Breaking boundaries and borders
So far in 2019, over 5000 refugees have arrived in Greece.
In the past five years, almost 2000 were accounted either dead or missing.
Shocking? Yes. But we have become desensitised to statistics. One minute they are there, and the next they disappear; the scale of loss is lost on us. Photographs, however, can remain imprinted in our minds long after they leave a screen.
Sophie Merrell’s “No Borders” collection puts a face to these incomprehensible statistics. Photography has the potential to capture a moment of energy, giving it perennial life and allowing us, as a viewer, to feel a proximity to the people shown that would otherwise disappear should they be replaced with a bar chart. Taken in Thessaloniki, Greece, what is perhaps most shocking is the normality and humanity exhibited. A couple of best friends, a curious girl and a bunch of dancing boys: they are just like you or I.
In 2015, the UN released a virtual reality film entitled Clouds Over Sidra that allows the viewer to step inside a refugee camp in Za’atari, Jordan. It follows exactly the same premise: these people are going about their daily life and it is the quotidian we can relate to, which has the power to carry a potent message. The photographs that appear on the news go for 'shock factor', but we can still look away and pacify ourselves. The addition of VR to Clouds Over Sidra affords the viewer an innescapable 360-degree view. We inhabit an alternate reality, and more importantly actively participate in it.
Being active in viewing is different to acting in reality. Footage such as Sophie’s "No Borders" collection and Clouds Over Sidra force us to confront our inaction by not allowing us to remain immobilised once the viewing is over. The normalcy depicted transforms our sympathy into empathy. We are compelled to see these individuals not as 'victims', but as equals: our equals that need our help.
Words by: Flo Garnett
Photography by: Sophie Merrell