Mass migration has led to the creation of new residential areas. Although this is yet not evident in Europe, as a result of the limited case studies, Calais is a striking example. Because we prefer forms of detention, rather than cohabitation, this does not mean that mass migration is not happening in other parts of the world. Real cities have been shaped by decades of mass migration, the clearest examples of this phenomenon being Africa (especially Kenya, Chad and Western Sahara).
Satellite imagery is the main medium which helps us understand and grasp this evolution in the most consistent way.
These satellite-cities, even if they are often not considered actual metropolises, develop as real urban conglomerates, in different ways according to their geographic position and the communities inhabiting them.
The goal of “Satellites” is to use of satellite imagery to analyse these new cities, give them a visual dignity and investigate how they have evolved, following the principles of town planning. Moreover the project wants to underline how, differently from its African counterparts, public satellite imagery in Europe (e.g. Google Earth) shows no traces of these conglomerates, denoting a “censorship” which prevents a clear understanding of the matter. Exemplar is the situation of Calais, where public satellite imagery was not updated between 2004 and 2015, even though refugee camps were spreading around the town, public imagery was untruthful showing no traces of the refugee camps. Differently satellite imagery within the African refugee camps was and is used as a means to record and keep track of the evolution of these urban agglomerates.
The project focuses on Africa and specific countries in particular, as these were more heterogenous in terms of images and results, whilst offering more representatives images and more precise data. Each image is the result of the composition of hundreds of HD screenshots stitched together. The main findings of the research being the evolution and the typologies of these cities, following the principles of town planning.
What prompted the project?
This project arose from the need of finding satellite imagery of the former Calais refugee camp. After researching and finding none of it, out of curiosity I started looking at satellite imagery of African refugee camps and discovered that in most of these cases, satellite imagery was very detailed and up-to-date.
What questions does the project raise?
I guess I am raising no question here, but more trying to research on how refugee camps are structured. Refugee camps in Europe are still seen as something too far from our culture, even though they have been present for a long time on our soil and not always referred to foreign migrants, but also to citizens of a specific country who lived abroad and then came back (i.e. Italians who lived in Lybia and were then forced to go back leaving behind all of their belongings).
What informed the choice of the aerial perspective?
This choice was taken prominently because I needed a kind of image which would have allowed me to analyse the camp analytically and divide it into different “areas”. Afterwards, I realised it was very interesting to use a perspective not proper to the human being, a kind of bird-view, in order to change the point of view both in terms of visual language and conceptually.
What role and power do the images like these hold as a means to grasp our humanity?
I believe that every time we try to show the migrants’ situation from an unusual perspective, digging deep beyond the surface the common media show us, we’re trying to dignify the migrants’ condition itself.
Did you ever think of zooming in, into a more intimate scale in order to explore the individual narratives of the people living in these settlements?
I didn’t do it in this case, because I wanted to build intimacy by looking at a collective situation, and several different ones as well.
How do these settlements vary amongst each other? Are these all taken from the same country?
The main finding of my research regards the evolution and the typologies of these cities, following the principles of town planning. This is why there are differences between the camps in Kenya and in Algeria, especially in how they are structured, even though the UNHCR remains the main actor in all the camps.
In the Dadaab’s refugee camps there is more of an organised structure, with the camp divided into several blocks of houses (as clearly stated by the UNHCR) which remind of the structures of American cities (with perpendicular streets and main axis). In the cases of Hagadera, Dagahaley, IFO and IFO2 we can talk about a chessboard structure with the repetition of the different blocks. IFO2 and Kambioos are the clearest example of it and of how these camps are now planned from their start. The two camps were build to relocate people from the other camps, as a consequence of overpopulation.
The camp of Hagadera, being the most crowded in the world, is the clear example of how these camps are like real cities. The camp is divided into blocks and each block is managed by two leaders, a man and a woman. The leaders are elected periodically. And this applies also to the other camps of the region.
On the other hand, in Algeria and Western Sahara, the structure seems different. Firstly, it’s clearly visible how the camps always develop close to a road already existent. Secondly, there is no block structure, or at least, it is less pronounced. In this case, maybe we can talk of a city with several centres interconnected between them (Assouerd and Laayoune are the best examples). These camps have more of urban sprawl development, which can be described as uncoordinated growth, with an expansion characterised by short and unplanned urban growths, with a greater quantity of land used for fewer inhabitants (February 27 seems to be the best example of urban sprawl).
The Chadian refugee camps are more difficult to be read since there is a lack of information about them. However, Bredjing presents a feature that is common to many other refugee camps, that is to say, it’s a location close to a river.
What influences the choice of settlements you choose to frame?
I tried to look for the oldest and most crowded refugee camps, in order to have a more interesting structure. In fact, these also prove to be the most readable examples given their updated imagery and the quantity of information that can be found.
What is your work process in terms of development from research to final image?
The concept behind a project for me is the most important part of it. The final shape is often chosen according to this concept and the message I want to convey. In this case, this is a research project so I was looking for a point of view that could have given back a clear perspective on the structure and size of these camps. After having chosen the final output I start with a single case (in this case the camp of Hagadera), to see what the result might be. And then, if I’m satisfied I just keep on working on the other camps. After having chosen the camp and drew the area I want to portray I zoom into the camp (around 400m above the ground) and start taking HD screenshots of each portion of the camp. Once I have all the screenshots (normally between 60 and 110) and proceed to stitch them together in Photoshop.Once the final image is complete I crop it to fit the final area of the camp.
What tools do you use?
Google Earth for the screenshots and Photoshop to create the final image.
What is the ultimate statement?
In all my projects I always try to be impartial. My aim is to bring “current affairs” questions to a wider public through different media and try to give them a different perspective. With this project, I don’t want to make any statement. It is more of a visual research to show the complexity and also the beauty of these refugee camps. Something that in Europe it’s still seen as something alien. There is however a statement in what brought me to work on this project. Namely, the absence of satellite imagery over the refugee camp of Calais and the surrounding area of Calais in general. I have no idea why satellite imagery of it only came out while the camp was already being demolished, but it sure seemed like an odd timing.
Marco Tiberio (b. 1988) is a creative director and visual artist based in Amsterdam. His main field of interest is to investigate how human beings interact with societal changes and how do they adapt to them, be them physical or not.
He likes to challenge serious topics in an ironic manner, turn them around and take the viewer in an unexpected journey where classic photography, video, print and generative photography merges together. His goal is to find new ways of investigating topics in order to make them more accessible to a broader public and give them new interpretations.
With art director Maria Ghetti, he founded a creative studio and publishing house called Defrost. Their first book “Immorefugee” was selected among the best photobooks of 2017 by Martin Parr.
They just published the studio’s second publication, “Enlarge Magazine”, the first magazine about penis enlargement.
Marco is also a guest teacher at the Academy of Architecture of Amsterdam and he has just opened his first solo exhibition in Amsterdam, hosted by artKitchen Gallery.