A framed family photo hanging on a living room wall. A snapshot on your smartphone. A photobook filled with family memories. These snapshots in time are common for many people, but not for many families who have had to flee their countries. Over the past three years, photographer Joey O'Loughlin has joined Movement On The Ground in the refugee camps on Lesvos (Kara Tepe and former Moria camp), taking traditional family photos.
Inspired by the stories of the children, women, and men she came to know, Joey crafted the concept 'Family Portraits'. Now an exhibition that will be hosted in libraries across the Netherlands, Family Portraits enables refugees to have a new family photo to cherish and reframes the way in which Europeans often perceive refugees.
The photos, which have also been printed out and delivered to the families, document this time in their histories, the moment when someone decided that a bold escape was the only rational choice. They offer future generations a glimpse of brave ancestors. The portraits serve as a reminder that the refugee crisis, regularly depicted as a mass migration of undesirables, is a collection of individual acts, done for love and preservation of family.
These Family Portraits can currently be admired from December 1 to December 30 in the Enschede Library on the Pijpenstraat. The exhibit will continue from there on in different locations across the Netherlands. The agenda is as follows:
© Joey O'Loughlin Photography
Family Portraits, in the words of photographer Joey O'Loughlin
These photos were taken over several visits to Lesvos beginning in 2017 and put on hold due to the pandemic. There were two camps where Movement On The Ground was offering humanitarian support. Kara Tepe catered to people who were more vulnerable, with small children or physical challenges. It was relatively peaceful and friendly. The other camp, Moria, was notoriously overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous. Both camps are now gone, and a new camp has been constructed.
The camps were built in sprawling olive groves. The storied olive tree was the logical backdrop for the portraits. It is central to Greek culture and mythology. “Moria” refers to the sacred olive tree said to be a gift from the goddess Athena. The olive branch is an international symbol of peace and reconciliation, and the tree is respected across religious traditions.
At Kara Tepe, the trees in the portraits are situated at the edge of the camp. They overlook the Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey, the overseas route travelled by refugees seeking asylum on the Greek islands.
At Moria, a father took me and his family outside of the camp. We walked down a dirt road where he revealed an olive grove busting with wild flowers. “This is for pictures,” he said. Indeed it was.
Most of the families photographed were from Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. The population was always changing and included people from Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, and Nigeria. Many people had been travelling for years, some taking six years or more to make it to Europe.
The pictures were printed out and delivered within days. They were graciously received, often with tea and fruit or sweets. Our conversations were warm and sometimes emotional, often translated to English by generous camp residents.
I try to keep up with the families I have photographed. Some are still in Greece, while others are now living in Germany, Belgium, and a few in The Netherlands. The portraits are on the walls in the homes I visited in Greece and I look forward to planned visits in the EU.
When the pandemic becomes manageable, I hope to continue the Family Portraits project around the world.
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