Photographer captures portraits of refugees in southern Italy

Nimra from Pakistan. Pic: Caroline Gavazzi

A photographer whose images of refugees who have found a safe haven in Italy are to go on show at a Brick Lane gallery has told of the inspiration behind her work.

Caroline Gavazzi visited the Calabrian town of Riace – home to refugees from more than 20 nations – for the project We Are Here.

She said: “I went there [to Riace] last July and thought I will see how it goes. Everyone was so welcoming, I shot lots of pictures around the streets and of the people.”

The population of the village dropped from 2,500 to 400 in the 90s and has since bounced back to its original figure, due to the influx of refugees.

Gavazzi said: “They have left everything behind, that’s the message behind We Are Here. It took me a long time to find the right place, but I found it in Riace.

“We need to see them not as numbers and give them back their identity because they have lost themselves.”

She spoke of the Mayor, Domenico Lucano and how he has revived the village.

In 1998, Lucano offered over 200 Kurdish refugees whose boat had become stranded on a Riace beach on their way to Greece a place to stay, offering up vacant spaces in the village.

She said: “The mayor has helped the village so much, he has really given them hope. They come on boats from Africa, India and Pakistan and they are really suffering. Most of them are severely traumatised.”

Gavazzi spoke about using their identity. She said: “I want people to see them as they are.”

Kaitlynn from Togo and Bour from Ghana. Pic: Caroline Gavazzi

Bukki from Gambia. Pic: Caroline Gavazzi

For part of the project she decided to ask for their fingerprints.

“I also asked them to give me their fingerprints. I blew them up on plexi-glass and placed them in front of the portraits, for the viewer to look through the fingerprint. It is a direct message.”

“I started to try and exhibit this work to make people aware and more respectful of refugees.”

She is also sending them a percentage of the profits from the pictures. She said: “I can at least help them by giving them a percentage of the profits.

“It’s hard, I am a photographer going to Riace for a project, their trust has to be gained, these people have been really hurt.”

The exhibition runs July 4 – 10, Brick Lane Gallery.

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