This summer was plagued by sad headlines surrounding the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea, as new stories of thousands dying emerged on a daily basis.
It was a summer epitomised by vitriol. The mainstream British newspapers were filled with hatred towards these people, with a particular shocker written under Katie Hopkins’ infamous by-line: “I would use gunboats to stop migrants” which she declared in the Sun. There have been many vile descriptions of refugees in the media of late. For example, in Britain, multiple politicians and news agencies have been called out for their use of animalistic, dehumanising language in describing refugees in Calais: “boat-people” and “skinny people encouraged particular offence.
Despite the media’s hateful stream of propaganda, David Cameron still received substantial criticism for his employment of the word “swarms” to describe the situation at Calais port, and was accused of dehumanising refugees fleeing Syria.
New stories of the humanitarian crisis are being told every day, however, one of the more recent headlines to have hit the front pages is that of a Hungarian photographer whose work titled ‘Migrant Chic’ has been called out as a callous attempt to glamourise the plight of refugees.
Norbert Baska, a Budapest-based photographer, uploaded his collection of photographs, entitled ‘Der Migrant’, onto his website in the early days of October, and almost immediately attracted mass online criticism. The series of 13 photographs, taken at a site supposedly meant to mimic that of the Calais camp, features models wearing designer fashion brands, while posing next to barbed wire and scaled fences. One of the most controversial pictures depicts a female model being dragged by two men dressed as police officers. Baska’s models, such as Monika Jablonczky, wear clothes which are ripped or undone, which as Robert Mackey from the New York Times writes “drew particular ire, given the cultural and faith backgrounds of many of those fleeing wars in the Middle East.”
After an upsurge of criticism, mostly on social media, Baska decided to remove the images from his website. The photographer also released a somewhat apologetic statement in light of the “heated emotions” that the publication of the photographs stirred. However Baska and his colleagues still remained adamant that those criticising the ‘Der Migrant’ series had misinterpreted the work and missed the “true message” behind the shoot.
In a statement to the BBC, he said; “It is meant to show that we cannot make a clear judgment on this issue. Depending on which media you read or watch, you see them as either refugee families fleeing for their lives, or as masses of aggressive people. There is always another side to the story, that’s what we wanted to say. Do not judge on partial information”.
It is obvious that the humanitarian crisis has been a divisive issue, many news outlets have been quick to draw comparisons between the British media response and that of the German newspapers who printed ‘Welcome to Germany’ editions in Arabic for refugees coming into Germany. People have been encouraged to question the contrasting responses from the two countries when there very little separating them when it comes to wealth, development and infrastructure.
However, in the case of the ‘Der Migrant’ series, the portrayal of Hungarian models posing with smartphones against a backdrop imitating a glamorised refugee camp, the only response has been criticism for its insensitivity.
This controversy follows a video that emerged of a Hungarian camera-women kicking and tripping migrants near the Serbian border, some of whom were carrying their children.
However, should this insensitivity really be that much of a surprise? The Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, recently spoke of the country being at risk of being “overrun” by refugees and Christianity in Europe being consequently threatened.