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LENS CULTURE | The Dream: Finding New Ways of Conveying The Refugee Crisis | FABIO BUCCIARELLI


When we sleep, our differences fall away. In the inky darkness, in the sweet silence of slumber, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak all look largely the same.

And while dozing, of what does each of us dream? It’s impossible to know from the outside. A photograph, no matter how piercing, cannot reveal what happens in the other-world of dreams. But surely, from the most outwardly successful to the most destitute, we all hold out for the same hopes of happiness, security and love.

It is fitting, then, that photographer Fabio Bucciarelli’s new book opens with a full-page image of a woman at rest. Soon, we will be able infer she is a refugee. But at first, when confronted simply by silence, we can only think of her as a fellow human being. What world fills her dreams? The picture cannot say, but in the emptiness created, we are allowed to wander.

Contrast this picture, then, to the images that flood our mind when we hear the word “refugee”: desperate faces with outstretched hands; crowded beaches, boats and trains; mountains of life jackets and endless queues at reception centers; a lifeless child in the surf. Such pictures seem to tell the whole story in an instant: this is what a refugee looks like; this is their reality. Faced with such stark “truth,” we are left with just two choices: if empathetic, our heart breaks (the same way, over and over); if close-minded, our heart hardens ("This is not my problem, go elsewhere"). But what new understanding do these ceaseless repetitions offer us?

As an experienced (and decorated) photojournalist, Bucciarelli recognized that the much-discussed refugee crisis needed a new perspective, a fresh visual approach. He saw how one of the most significant issues of our day was beginning to numb the world. He searched for a new language with which to tell the story he was witnessing—the story of how millions of people around the world are desperately searching only to fulfill their most basic needs.

His book, titled The Dream, is organized (metaphorically, novelistically) like a single day. In the beginning—darkness and repose. Sleep. A simple introduction: "The World's Refugee Crisis" (for this is a global problem, not just Europe's). Deep, pitch-black pages of mystery and longing. Then, as if awakening with the first light, a slow return to the world, conveyed perfectly through pinhole imagery. After, quite suddenly, the raw frame of reality—walking and trudging and queuing and crying and waiting. Tents and boats and blankets and overcrowded cellphone charging stations.

In the harsh, revealing sunlight, we see again these familiar photojournalistic images, but now with a poetic touch. In the context of a day's journey, they appear like moments of lucid dreaming—are we awake? Is this horrible nightmare truly a reality? Occasional pinhole photographs mark moments of doubt and disorientation. Crowded pages (full-bleed, on both sides) reveal both chaotic madness and unending drudgery.

Finally, night begins to fall again. Blurry, overnight train cabins, much-needed cigarettes, the shining relief (and shocking fear) of a coast guard’s spotlight. Midnight medical inspections, desperate, pleading phone calls. Interspersed blank pages, much-needed, of pure black. And at the end, another respite: sleeping figures once more. A return to the universal dreams that sustain each and every individual who has been pictured through the nightmarish day we collectively experienced. What lies ahead is impossible to say—more travails and hardships, to be sure. But as Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, "When I waked, I cried to dream again."—if nothing else, we are able to carry on thanks to our dreams.


The book itself, as an object, is a masterpiece. Each and every step of the way, we find evidence of abundant thought and care. For example, to produce the pinhole images, Bucciarelli worked with a team to create a unique pinhole camera, built to specification for the project's particular needs. The cover is inspired by the mottled, mixed-up colors of soaking wet photographs found in the pockets of dead refugees who had washed up on the shores of Italy. In the special edition, the book comes in a life jacket sleeve, hand-sewn by refugees using actual materials from the beaches of Lesvos.

Within, the individual photographs are laid out with brilliant (and dedicated) vision, ranging from thoughtful single pages, to dramatic double page-spreads and gate-folds. Even the use of blank pages (both black and white) speak to Bucciarelli's commitment to the specificities of the book as a storytelling medium and to his desire to convey his narrative in an original and striking manner.

With the popularity of photobooks these days, photographers reflexively want to produce their own without necessarily taking the time to grasp the power (and limitations) of the medium. But since books like The Dream exist and show us what is possible to communicate between the covers of a photobook—it is a shame to produce anything less. Please, find a copy of this book and spend some time appreciating the immense degree of dedication behind its production. Highly, highly recommended.

—Alexander Strecker

Contemporary Art Gallery Turin

Contemporary Art Gallery
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