Now You See Me Moria poster campaign uses photography and social media to give voice to the giant refugee camp in Lesbos

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Years after thousands of migrants arrived in the EU, they remain in temporary accommodation on the Greek island. Here, they take matters into their own hands and demand to be heard

‘We are humans humans humans humans humans […] too’ read the words on a poster from the recent Now You See Me Moria campaign. Moria is a refugee camp on the island of Lesbos in Greece. It is where people try to establish a life as they wait in a holding pattern for someone to decide their fate. It is also where babies are born, young children learn how to swim and attend language classes, and chess games are played to pass the time. At times the camp has housed up to 20,000 people. On 08 September 2020 a devastating fire left some 12,767 already homeless people without a place to sleep. The camp was rebuilt, the refugees remain, and it continues to be called Moira.

© Cristopher Siniväli.
© N_Y_S_M_EllaSophiakopie

Noemi, a photographer based in the Netherlands, first became aware of the harsh reality of life at Camp Moria via Facebook. The images she saw on her feed were taken by Amir, a 21-year-old refugee from Afghanistan who teaches English to the children in the camp.

She reached out to him, and the two began sharing the photo stories on a joint Instagram account, drawing on their experiences of loss that often accompany migration. Soon after Qutaeba, a 28-year-old Syrian living in the camp with his then pregnant wife and two daughters, and 23-year-old Ali, also from Afghanistan, joined them.

At the time, in August 2020, the news coverage of the camp was next to none. Journalists were prevented from entering the camp, and anyone volunteering or working inside was forbidden to take pictures too. The group took matters into their own hands, combining their skills and interests to make life in the camp more visible, and impossible to ignore. A month later, Moria burned, but they persevered.

The steadily mounting attention that the images were receiving online inspired the photographers to take the campaign to the next stage. An open call was announced.

Designers (particularly from Europe) were asked to create posters that would help more people understand the overwhelming and critical situation. They feature images taken from inside the camp, overlaid with messages and appeals to end suffering, take action and to remind us of the basic human conditions we each have the right to access. 

“You see me, but you don’t see me because you don’t do anything to change our situation. Now, you’re going to see me and it’s your decision if you want to do something or not. But you can’t say that you don’t see me.”

© MARIT AAFKE.

Titled Now You See Me Moria, the campaign places the images into a new context. The title is inspired by the hyper-visibility of the inhabitants of Moria as a generalised mass of people, without any distinction being made to view them as individuals with memories, desires and hopes.

Noemi echoes this line of thinking. “You see me, but you don’t see me because you don’t do anything to change our situation,” she says, explaining the thought process. “Now, you’re going to see me and it’s your decision if you want to do something or not. But you can’t say that you don’t see me.”

The posters are freely available to download, encouraging people to print and repurpose the visuals, and show their support in their homes, buildings, cities and streets. “Make only one little step,” says Noemi. “If you make only one little step, and another person makes one little step, millions of little steps will make a change.”

She recognises that the politics of the situation can be complicated but sharing resources acts as a way of broadening reach and understanding. A reminder that we don’t need to be experts to understand that change needs to take place.

The photographs act as prompts in two ways. First, they bring us to the face of reality. These aren’t press photos. We aren’t seeing fields of people on their knees praying, the shorthand visual signifier to remind us that we are dealing with non-Western people. Nor are we seeing people as helpless, suffering beings. Rather, a simple reality. Second, we are asked to respond to these images. To get involved, to share, to write to governments, to ask difficult questions, to care. 

Reflecting on the early days, Noemi points to the power of social media. It enables us to revisit and remember the truth of the situation as it occurred and to measure progress. Instagram acts as a kind of periscope, allowing viewers from around the world to see into a space that is deliberately obstructed and difficult to envision. It also creates a channel of exchange.

This helps to promote a sense of shared ownership and responsibility without the need to establish a central point of knowledge. Noemi notes that the use of first names only is a deliberate decision. It adds an element of anonymity for the photographers who are at risk of having their phones confiscated if they are seen to be sharing and posting images.

It is a collective way of working where they are aligned yet autonomous in what they share and contribute. The photographers deliver the imagery and Noemi assists with the text.

“Our goal is to change people’s minds. We cannot accept this behaviour anymore, we cannot accept that people are treated like this. We cannot say that this is happening far away, so we can’t do anything. This is happening in Europe. You can’t put the responsibility on your politicians. You, as a citizen, have a responsibility.” 

© Jonas Wolff.
© Elisabeth Thoma.

Now You See Me Moria was launched on Valentine’s Day of this year. “Let’s change Valentine’s Day from love for each other, let’s make it an act of love for humanity,” says Noemi. Valentine’s Day, she explains, is a symbol of new hope. “Our goal is to change people’s minds. We cannot accept this behaviour anymore, we cannot accept that people are treated like this. We cannot say that this is happening far away, so we can’t do anything. This is happening in Europe. You can’t put the responsibility on your politicians. You, as a citizen, have a responsibility.” 

The photographers of Moria elevate and activate the voices and stories of the camp. Once shared, these encounters are further amplified. They are responsible for our understanding of the urgency of their lives while establishing their own roles as facilitators and leaders.

Quataeba and Ali and the other photographers contributing to the platform (currently totalling five) harnessed the potential for change themselves. They are our eyes and our access. They remind us that the power dynamic of photography can be reappropriated, shifted, and repurposed in order to empower those who have been dispossessed. 

What do we do with this information? What can we achieve with the story that has been passed out of the camp? For now, the message is clear, that to share an image is to empower the people of Moria.“At the end, we all have the same goal,” says Noemi. “To change the situation, and they see that what they’re doing is important.”

Mariama Attah

Mariama Attah is a curator, writer and lecturer with a particular interest in overlooked visual histories, as well as understanding how photography and visual culture can be used to amplify underrepresented voices. She was previously Assistant Editor of Foam Magazine. Prior to this, she was a curator at Photoworks, where she was responsible for developing and curating programs and events including Brighton Photo Biennial. She was also Commissioning and Managing Editor of the yearly magazine Photoworks Annual. Attah is currently the curator of Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool.