“I didn’t like the dynamics of them being against the wall again and me, with my massive camera, subjecting them to my gaze.” Nana Varveropoulou, the Guardian.
Before the big story broke (in Europe) of millions of people displaced from their homes, trudging towards countries where the rule of law, democracy and human rights are mostly upheld;
Before the terrible photographs of misery, desperation and death from far away;
Before the desperate search by British journalists for “Syrian families who’ve come via Calais, been taken in by a nice British family, and made a successful life for themselves, preferably in the last 18 months…”
Before all of that, came a great piece of reflection by Stephen Moss interviewing photographer Nana Varveropoulou, on making images of life inside Colnbrook detention centre.
The politics of story-telling are difficult – artists and journalists often claim they are “using their rights to stand up for the rights of others.”
Your gaze is powerful
Sometimes, once you’ve glimpsed the awfulness, the respectful thing to do is to look away. The dignity of privacy in times of grief and despair is a great gift.
Let people know you’re there, that you care, and then think about looking away until you’re invited to look once again. Respect and empowerment mean allowing the people you look upon to direct your gaze.