I drove alone from Rome to the Balkans to cover the refugee crisis on the borders of Eastern Europe in September 2015. I saw the physical and human landscape changing slowly. I saw the faces, and I heard the sound of the words. I saw history flowing from Florence to Venice, to Trieste, to the forests of Slovenia, to the Alps and the well kept chalets near Austria, to the flat agricultural peripheries deeper into the former Austro-Hungarian empire, eastwards, towards Serbia and Hungary…
I think this helped me to put in focus something I had noticed already when covering the Mediterranean route of migration: that being unable to fly – and not because of money, since the migrants’ journeys cost as much as business class tickets or more – forces one to negotiate geography in a way humans are generally no longer used to. Every inch of geography, between start and finish. Deserts, seas, rivers, mountains, seasons, nights, days, hostility, solidarity.
The Balkan migration route runs along the path of the Danube – the mythical river of Europeness – only upstream. The Danube is born in Germany and ends in the Black Sea. This is also no surprise. Migratory birds also follow that path in their efforts to chase a climate where they can thrive, and not die. Rivers and birds, animated by an irresistible push to move, unaided by technology, will follow the easiest path they find.
I saw long lines of people walking across borders, getting off buses, being loaded on trains. The whole process gave the idea of a disciplined transfer of people. The multitude, the fences, the silent lines gave an idea of passivity. But I think this appearance was deceiving. It emphasised form, not substance. The eye always ended on a face in the crowd, through a gap in the fence, on the other side of a window. And the faces always told me a different story. Migration, leaving one’s own place to move where one does not belong, is in many ways the opposite of disciplined passivity. It is an act of brave insubordination. Faced with the inability or impossibility of those higher up to find solutions for their communities or countries, individuals – many of them – took a risky step to try and solve at least their own life.
I saw long fences being built. Seeing a fence rising where the land was open and free is ugly and evokes bad symbols. But I could also see that the inhabitants of these flat lands, where there is no barrier between two neighbours or between a house and the street, small communities, far from the big cities, were scared of what looked like a human flood.
And what struck me the most was this. The way men and women held their children along this journey. The way they talked to them and looked at them. It looked like many were doing it for their children. Not all of them. But many. Many.
I have been a Reuters cameraman for eighteen years. When my son, Martino, began to walk last year, I started to look back – for the first time really – at the things I had seen during my work journeys.
Up until then I had been very comfortable with the main traits of my profession. News cameramen – unlike photographers – are anonymous, their pictures have the life of a mayfly, running fast on news bulletins only to disappear for ever. They usually don’t look back, the most important story being always the next one. But when I watched this little man – he was about 14 months old – venturing fearlessly into his micro-world, I shuddered briefly as I thought of how little he had seen, of how little he knew. This made me start thinking back of things, people, events. And, to my surprise, what came back did not return in the shape of moving images. It came back as still photographs.
This was the genesis of The Surviving Frame – the random photo diary of an anonymous news cameraman – for which Instagram gave me the perfect platform.
The project does not follow any order, chronological or otherwise. It spans 18 years and all continents except the arcric poles and Oceania. It involves major news stories as well as minor events that struck me for some reason. I am waiting to see if in time all the fragments will compose a picture that says something about how the world is and what makes human life so terrifying and beautiful. All the photographs in the project are obtained with mobile snapshots of my work video footage – taken from a computer.
Antonio Denti (@antclick on Instagram) was born in Catania, Sicily, on April 3, 1972. He studied social anthropology at Goldsmiths College and SOAS, London, then documentary filmmaking at the Cinecittà’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome. Since 1998 he has worked as a news agency cameraman for Reuters, based in their Rome’s bureau.