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Friday, 18 March 2016

Scratched Eyes, Ruined Lives, Lingering Ghosts


My pile of books to review is getting smaller and I'm not going to review anymore for a while once the pile is gone. Otherwise the blog becomes an exercise in pile management and it's just painful, which really won't do.

But in the meantime, really interesting books keep on coming in, not least of which is Sam Ivin's Lingering Ghosts. 


Ivin graduated from the fabulous Documentary Photography Course in Wales (which I teach on) and Lingering Ghosts was part of his graduation project. It consists of portraits of asylum seekers who have been waiting for leave to be granted, who are living in limbo as they wait to get the lift from asylum seeker to refugee, from where they can start planning a new life.

But if that leave doesn't come, if permission is not granted, then nothing can be started, you live a life not knowing if you'll be sent 'home' the next day, to a home that no longer exists, a home that is surrounded by imprisonment, torture and fear. It's a desperate position to be in - and that's where the title comes from.

And that's where the images come from, images where the eyes are scratched out, where the identity is violently mutilated.


After Ivin graduated, Fabrica saw the images, gave Ivin and residency and helped him make this book. But before he did the scratching process by which the images of the refugees became disfigured to match their limbo-like status, was intensified. The original photographs were printed onto aluminium and then the scratching became something sharp and vicious.

So there's a physicality to the pictures, and this is matched in the book. It is a large sized book designed so that the integrity of the original prints is preserved (and I'm guessing the original idea may have come from photographers like Ben Krewinkel's and his A Possible Life ).

The book comes in a passport format (which is oversized and so doesn't quite work) and the images are presented right side, with a passport symbol of the country of origin on the left. So the picture above is of a girl from Eritrea - she's been an asylum seeker for 7 years. A mass of scratches covers her eyes, which become bleached white panes of nothingness, and then the scratches spread out from there, wiping everything out at the centre but sharp and piercing at the edges - here is where the size of the book matters. You really feel the violence and the pain of the suffering, all rendered in visual form.

So it's the physical prints that matter, the ones where the aluminium (I think) shows through, and the book presents the collection of prints. And tells stories and thoughts and feelings of the people photographed.

"Everyday the same. That's it. You can't plan for anything. You just need to wait until you finish then you start to plan for your life. But before, before you finish asylum, there's no plan, nothing. You just need to wait for the out,"reads one story.

"I'm hoping hoping, hoping, hoping," reads another.

Buy the Book Here

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