Inspired by the echos of the migrant crisis in his home country, hungarian photographer Norbert Baska has made a fashion shoot called “Der Migrant” with models in luxurious clothes posing as refugees in fake camp set-ups with barbed wire. ‘Lovely‘, some say. ‘What’s the problem‘, others ask. But the majority of us will immediately recognize it as being essentially wrong. So why?
NYT: As Nathalie Hof observed in the online journal OAI13, the images that attracted the most attention showed the model, Monika Jablonczky, pausing to “take a selfie, leaning against the border fence, in her designer clothes, with a phone which bears the distinct logo of Chanel.” That the model’s shirt is half open drew particular ire, given the cultural and faith backgrounds of many of those fleeing wars in the Middle East.
Baska’s response to the (apparently surprising) critic reaction of his colleagues:
I hoped people would realize that the situation is very complex and see that they are taking stands based on partial or biased information. I do not understand how people can take a clear stand (pro or con) while we are flooded with contradictory information through the media, so no one has extensive knowledge of the situation as a whole. This is exactly what we wanted to picture: you see a suffering woman, who is also beautiful and despite her situation, has some high quality pieces of outfit and a smartphone.
The shooting is not intended to glamourize this clearly bad situation, but rather… to draw the attention to the problem and make people think about it…
Why shouldn’t Baska glamourize such reality? If for some the answer is very clear, as a photography teacher I frequently testify to its complexity. For very different reasons, this generation has a very particular sense of ethics and not much respect for human values; they struggle to identify what’s wrong with “the Baska approach”. I’d rather not go back to Sontag’s idea of ‘inauthentic beauty’, which she used to describe Salgado’s work, but the truth is that the concept immediately came to my mind.
Baska’s statement that he didn’t want to glamourize, rather wanted to dignify, has no truth to it. Either he was aware that he was taking advantage of a harsh reality to move the spotlight on him, or he has just ignorant. Either way, it was a bad call. In general, there’s nothing wrong with choosing current events as themes for commercial work, but if you want to create fictions that are so closely related to reality, you’ll have to play by social reality rules and so, if you want to talk about a situation that involves the death of people fleeing the war, it’s not a good idea to make a composition that puts together in the same image this sort of symbols: Chanel, barbed wire, eastern looking model, luxurious clothes and cellphones.
It’s disrespectful in so many ways. 1) the migrant crisis has created several situations that deal with our collective unconscious, and the barbed wire being used in Hungary plays a big part on it. Women, men and children concentrated in one place, asking for help with barbed wire on the horizon will always arise the memory of World War II;
2) Chanel cellphones are products of a society that is ruled by capitalism, precisely the same society that is more concerned with the markets than with building a more just and equal way of living for us all. When you put a girl leaning on barbed wire taking a selfie with a Chanel cellphone, what it the subtitle? Syrian girl takes selfie à la mode des westerners to see if she can fit in their society???;
3) And what about the joke with the sandwich? How can one understand such nonsense? Is it: Look at me, I’m hungry but still I’m not really going to eat it all because I want to keep my figure so that you can all love my body? Or: Look at me, I’m a refugee and I’m hungry but still I’m a sex bomb and I’ll let you take a peek under my skirt?
After a lot of controversy, here’s Baska’s team official notice: We have experienced a lot of negative feedback since the publication of our photo series Der Migrant, although more and more people recognize the true message behind the pictures and agree with it […] Considering the heated emotions and because, despite our intentions, many unfortunately consider the pictures offending, we have decided to remove the series from our website.