MOBILE PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE QUESTION OF VISIBILITY AMONG AFRICAN ASYLUM SEEKERS IN ITALY
(Università di Milano Bicocca)
Paper short abstract:
My paper focuses on mobile photography among West African asylum seekers in Italy. It analyses the production and (non) circulation of digital images in social media, in connection with forced migrants' fears, concerns and aspirations.
Paper long abstract:
My paper focuses on mobile photography among West African asylum seekers in Italy. It analyses the production and (non) circulation of digital images in social media, in connection with forced migrants' fears, concerns and aspirations. The question of visibility - who sees what - is crucial to these migrants' lives in reception centers. Surveillance by case workers and police is part of their daily experience, in the form of the "myopticon", described by Whyte (2011). Another aspect of visibility regards the relationships between people living in the same reception centers. Migrants struggle to control what fellow occupants know (and see) about them to avoid gossiping, which can dangerously trigger witchcraft. Similarly, they need to communicate with families back home, balancing display and concealment. Their families expect pictures of their new life (mostly via Whatsapp and Facebook). Migrants wish to hide their precarious life conditions, and also to resist showing themselves as too well-off since they fear remittance requests. My presentation will insert mobile photography into this wider scenario, considering how it can create both ruptures and connections. In particular, I will examine migrants' attempts at controlling the circulation of pictures among different audiences, their strategies to manage multiple social media profiles, and their preoccupations with storing pictures of themselves in other people's phones. This paper is based on fieldwork conducted in the Torino area in 2017-18, utilizing the anthropological methods of on- and off-line participant observation and qualitative interviews.
Photographs as objects of affective connection and disruption