Accepted Paper:

Private photographs (1948) and memories (2008) of Estonian refugees  


Lynda Mannik (York University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will analyze the ways Estonian refugees photographically represented themselves while migrating by boat to Canada in 1948. It will also examine the memories that were elicited 60 years later in conjunction with viewing these images, which transcend time and trauma.

Paper long abstract:

According to Liisa Malkki (1997), by the late 20th century, public visual representations of refugees developed into a "singular translatable and mobile mode of knowledge" that transcends national borders, providing an internationally understood, albeit discriminatory, visual sense of what a refugee looks like - a set of universalized visual metaphors. To date, there are few studies that specifically look at how refugees visually represent themselves while in transit. My paper analyses the various ways photographs, taken by refugees who were migrating by boat in 1948, not only give voice to their experience, but more importantly, allow contemporary viewers to see them as complex human beings, which in turn provides a powerful counterpoint to stereotypes. It will also analyze the memories that came forward while looking at these photographs 60 years later in personal interviews with over 30 of the SS Walnut's 347 passengers, including the photographers. Over 200 photographs were taken by four young, male, Estonian refugees while on route to Canada. All of them had escaped Soviet occupation near the end of World War II, and were again fleeing Stalin's wrath after living in Sweden for four years. These photographs transcend time to show how humanity and hope is imagined by refugees while they experience the trauma of forced migration by boat.

Panel Mig005
Refugee visions and realities: interpreting time with people on the move