Quiet reportage: documenting the migrant experience

Multi-award winning photographer, Marco Panzetti, has invested significant periods of time making images that matter. His work on migration was exhibited in Tunis, as part of the successful OPEN Media Hub-led International Convention of Journalism, in which 800 journalists and citizens gathered together to discuss the role of the media.

The photography exhibition, The Idea of Europe, took place in the epicentre of Tunis' cultural scene, Le 4ème Art, and showcased Marco’s commitment to photography on an extremely complicated and quick-moving global story.

But what it really stood out for is for what it lacked: photographs of obvious suffering and distress. 

“I decided to put aside many pictures of people suffering and in poor conditions because I prefer to show a more dignified version of the subjects,” explained Marco ahead of the exhibition.

“For me, it’s about the human story. Giving names, voices and faces to the refugees who have faced horror on their journeys to Europe.”



In line with elevating the perspective of migrants and refugees, Marco’s posed portrait of a pregnant woman at the entrance of a Red Cross tent in Settimo Torinese, Italy, was indelible. The whole pose is confirmed in shadow – the woman a silhouette.

“I saw the red, the tent and the silhouette and I thought: that’s the picture I have been looking for.”

The photograph formed part of Marco’s 2017 reportage series Life After Hell, a follow-up to Troubled Waters, which won him first place in the video category in the OPEN Media Hub-supported Migration Media Award that same year.

For the story, Marco journeyed to five different refugee centres in Italy, from the alpine village of Vedeseta in the north, to the Sicilian city of Messina to the south. 

The series combined a lot of heart and subtlety, quiet scenes, simple gestures and habits of daily life that do well to humanise the subjects. 





The need to survive

Exhibited against a crimson red backdrop, Marco juxtaposed images of the rescue of a boat a few miles off the coast of Libya at night, with an almost regal portrait of a 25-year-old Nigerian migrant, Kelvin Eguavoen, on board a rescue vessel on a calm, still morning.

At the heart of these images was the need to survive – the root of nearly all migration.

That also came across in the title of the series, 'Life After Hell'.



Marco’s long experience covering migrants has given him a keen appreciation of the desperation that fuels their journey. But, he added, there are emotional obstacles inherent in his work: 

“Sometimes you get too attached to some of the migrants and their stories and you lose the bigger picture.

“You hear awful stories about their terrible situations and these horrible backstories and you reach saturation point – you cannot stand more suffering.”



He also sees photography as having a special problem in the mainstream media.

“There is a certain predictability in the media. Migrants in boats struggling to get life jackets and waving their arms in desperation are the images that really sell.

"You could present 100 images to a newspaper or magazine editor, and these are the ones that would most often get selected.

I prefer to show a more dignified version of the subjects.

Marco Panzetti, Migration Media Award winner

“But that’s OK. The media desires a particular kind of picture. Those dramatic ones can often lead people to exploring the ‘quieter’ pictures on your website, or a more in-depth piece or 360-video that you’ve created and this is a good thing."



When asked how he would define the different types of migrant, Marco says: “At some point a distinction must be made between migrants and refugees, but who can say that fleeing from the persecution of war is worse than starvation at home?

“Both migrants and refugees deserve better lives and a better future.”


To learn more about Marco's long-term work on migration, visit the dedicated The Idea of Europe section on his website.

All images are the copyright of Marco Panzetti.


"Life After Hell" follows up on the story “Troubled Waters" which won first place, video category, in the 2017 Migration Media Award


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