Positions & Practice – Week 5

Masquerade! Paper faces on parade…
Masquerade! Hide your face, so the world will never find you!
Masquerade! Every face a different shade…
Masquerade! Look around – there’s another mask behind you!

– Hart and Stilgoe (1986)

This week’s theme was ‘Power and Responsibilities’ and one of the set activities consisted in reflecting on an image by photographer Jeff Mitchell and on how this image was eventually used for ulterior reasons unbeknown to the author. We were asked to ponder on the ethical questions that this image and its use raised.

The image by Jeff Mitchell for Getty Images showed a seemingly never ending line of refugees on their way crossing from Croatia into Slovenia some time in October 2015. This image was eventually used controversially by the UK Independent Party (UKIP) during the 2016 referendum campaign to leave the European Union. Getty Images confirmed that the image had been licensed from them and that it was shot in Slovenia in 2015 by their staff photographer, Jeff Mitchell. Getty Images stated: “It is always uncomfortable when an objective news photograph is used to deliver any political message or subjective agenda, however the image in question has been licensed legitimately” (SAFDAR 2016). Mitchell explained his position by stating: “photographers are there to record stories, as they happen and when they happen, in the best way we can. But what happens after that, how our images are used, can be out of our control, especially in the digital age – which is unfortunate, particularly in this case”, and, “you have to remain impartial. I’m there to record what happens. I know it sounds simplistic, but you shoot what’s in front of you”, and, “some of the migrant crisis made for beautiful pictures; it was summer, with morning light coming down the train tracks” (BEAUMONT-THOMAS 2016).

When Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP at that time, was asked whether the people in the photo by Mitchell might be refugees, he astounded us all with a truly genial reply: “You don’t know that…” (DUDOK DE WIT 2016). Indeed, we don’t know that and presumably we can’t know that because all it takes is for us to hide behind the mask of feigned ignorance to capably conceal our complicity. Farage was also quoted as saying that “this is a photograph – an accurate, undoctored photograph” (STEWART and MASON 2016).

Dear Jeff Mitchell, if you are going to make people look like cattle then don’t act surprised when your image is used to show people looking like cattle…

The Sun chirpily reported that “the image was one of dozens Jeff captured as he travelled the world, documenting the horrific conditions facing migrants as they fled war-torn countries. Jeff also captured impressive pictures of Storm Barbara ravaging Scotland’s coast, Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey entering an isolation tent while fighting Ebola, and some lovely pictures of The Queen” (GRIFFITHS 2017).

…the ball is in the photographer’s court…


BEAUMONT-THOMAS, Ben. 2016. “Jeff Mitchell’s best photograph: ‘These people have been betrayed by Ukip’”. The Guardian [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jun/22/jeff-mitchells-best-shot-the-column-of-marching-refugees-used-in-ukips-brexit-campaign [accessed 1 March 2019].

DUDOK DE WIT, Alex. 2016. ‘UKIP Leave EU poster reported to police: what you need to know’. i News [online]. Available at: https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/ukips-racist-poster-need-know/ [accessed 1 March 2019].

GRIFFITHS, Josie. 2017. ‘PAINTING A PICTURE Famous image used on Ukip’s ‘breaking point’ migrant poster, showing terrible plight of refugees fleeing war-torn countries, helps Jeff Mitchell win Photographer of the Year 2016’. The Sun [online]. Available at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/living/3201491/famous-image-used-on-ukips-breaking-point-migrant-poster-showing-terrible-plight-of-refugees-fleeing-war-torn-countries-helps-jeff-mitchell-win-photographer-of-the-year-2016/ [accessed 1 March 2019].

HARTH, Charles and Richard STILGOE. 1986. Masquerade. United Kingdom: Polydor Ltd.

SAFDAR, Anealla. 2016. ‘Brexit: UKIP’s ‘unethical’ anti-immigration poster’. Al Jazeera [online]. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/06/brexit-anti-immigration-ukip-poster-raises-questions-160621112722799.html [accessed 1 March 2019].

STEWART, Heather and Rowena MASON. 2016. ‘Nigel Farage’s anti-migrant poster reported to police’. The Guardian [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/16/nigel-farage-defends-ukip-breaking-point-poster-queue-of-migrants [accessed 1 March 2019].

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