February 23: Urgent

Date #23February 23: Urgency and conviction are the motivators of quality photojournalism.

Tom Goldner’s The Fox Darkroom and Gallery has processing facilities for processing of film and making prints, classrooms and studios that he has set up in recently restored Young Husband Wool Store in Kensington, originally constructed in the late 1800s. Assisted by enthusiastic volunteers and generous crowd-funding Goldner provides quality facilities to a growing clientele who are newly attracted to, or long devotees of, traditional chemistry-based photography, fibre-based printing, antique or alternative processes and large format cameras.

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Audience at The Fox Gallery exhibition view a print from Brian Cassey’s Inside Manus Detention Centre
Asylum seeker Omah Ibrahim Taha from Iraq in the Lombrum detention centre abandoned by Australia.
Brian Cassey (2018) Asylum seeker Omah Ibrahim Taha from Iraq in the Lombrum detention centre abandoned by Australia.

In its short life the Fox Gallery space is shaping up as a venue for excellent documentary shows that have included Lisa O’Donnell‘s Myanmar and a survey of Tobias Titz’ collaborative polaroid portraits and  tonight it opens an exhibition of award-winning photographer Brian Cassey’s Inside Manus Detention Centre, on display until 4 March.

Pakistani refugee Ezatullah Kakar on the boat to the Lombrum detention centre with food and medicine
Brian Cassey (2018) Pakistani refugee Ezatullah Kakar on the boat to the Lombrum detention centre with food and medicine.

Lombrum, a US naval base on Manus Island during WW2 and now in possession of Papua New Guinea is the focus of rising angst and shame for Australia. Refugee and asylum centres exist throughout the world, but this one is a ‘detention centre’, i.e. concentration camp, intended by its creators to be forbidding enough to deter ‘illegal’ asylum seeker arrivals by sea via Indonesia.

Iranian refugee Rezza Chenane sits wide eyed and rocking in the Lombrum detention. centre
Brian Cassey (2018) Iranian refugee Rezza Chenane sits wide eyed and rocking in the Lombrum detention centre.

Mistreatment of the inmates has shifted public opinion away from this ‘Pacific Solution’ policy, created over 2001-2007 with bipartisan support on promise of ‘turning back the boats’. Asylum seekers were to be transported to detention centres on island nations in the Pacific Ocean, rather than landing on the Australian mainland. Quite the opposite of the Italian governments Mare Nostrum policy which saved the lives of thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean, Australia’s attitude of neglect and incarceration has caused undeserved deaths and suffering amongst those desperate enough to attempt the sea crossing from Indonesia. One of the asylum seekers, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani, puts it this way;

Somewhere beyond its borders and on the accursed Manus and Nauru Islands, Australia is currently producing and examining violence and advertising it to the world. Simply put, Australia wants to tell the world that for anyone who comes to Australia by boat, the destiny that awaits them is life in a hellish prison on one of these islands.

The main policy here on Manus is to put asylum seekers in a time tunnel. In other words, none of the asylum seekers are aware of the stage of their own application and others’. They have no idea about the period of time they [will] be kept in the detention and what future is waiting for them.

Very ill Rohingya refugee Salim Kwawning lies on a table in the Lombrum centre abandoned by Australia
Brian Cassey (2018) Very ill Rohingya refugee Salim Kwawning lies on a table in the Lombrum centre abandoned by Australia

Lombrum was declared illegal by Amnesty International and subsequently the PNG Supreme Court also determined that the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers was unlawful, causing the Australian Government to devise a plan to close it down. Two days after its closure and the abandonment of over 600 asylum seekers, Brian Cassey and journalist Rory Callinan were “smuggled” inside by boat to cover the story of men left without water, food, power and services.

Asylum seekers are collecting water from a dirty makeshift well and filling rubbish bins
Brian Cassey (2018) Asylum seekers are collecting water from a dirty makeshift well and filling rubbish bins
Asylum seekers wash and cool down with precious well water
Brian Cassey (2018) Asylum seekers wash and cool down with precious well water.

These are fresh and urgent images. The marvel of them, to the credit of Brian Cassey’s experience as a photojournalist, is that they were taken within the 18 minute time limit  that he was allowed inside the detention centre. That this is not his first documentation of Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island, after visits in 2013, 2016 and 2017, is evident in his targeted and focused results from those few minutes. In them he effectively conveys the mens’ despair that drives their cooperative efforts to control their situation.

Asylum seekers in the Lombrum detention clean up camp after being abandoned by Australia.
Brian Cassey (2018) Asylum seekers in the Lombrum detention clean up camp after being abandoned by Australia.

Brian Cassey works with various Australian and International newspapers, wires and magazines covering news and features, assignments including the tsunami in northern Papua New Guinea (1998); the evacuation of refugees from East Timor (1999); the coup in Fiji and the World Economic Forum (2000);  the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami disaster in Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar, and category 5 Cyclones Larry (2006) & Yasi (2011).

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Brian Cassey (2016) Manus Island detainee after beating by PNG police. Cover Photo for Sunday Mail Pictures of the Year 2016.

In the image below Brian Cassey and his companions are leaving the island and as he photographs from the shore they in turn are filmed by Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani (*1983).

Asylum seeker detainee and journalist Behrouz Boochani films as we leave the abandoned detention centre by boat.
Brian Cassey (2018) Asylum seeker detainee and journalist Behrouz Boochani films as we leave the abandoned detention centre by boat.

After graduating from Tarbiat Modares University with a master’s degree in Political Geography and Geopolitics, Boochani worked as a freelance journalist for the Iranian newspapers Kasbokar Weekly, Qanoon, and Etemaad writing on Middle-East politics and the minority Kurdish culture. He was co-founder of the Kurdish magazine Werya which was raided by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in February 2013, after which, on May 23, 2013, he fled Iran.

Boochani is cinematographer and co-director, along with Arash Kamali Sarvestani, of the documentary Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time produced entirely on a cell phone at Manus Island. The chauka bird, native only to Manus Island, calls at particular times in the day in the morning and is on the local flag. It is the deprecatory name given by Australians to the solitary confinement area.

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Behrouz Boochani (cinematographer/editor) and Arash Kamali Sarvestani (editor/producer) Frame from the documentary Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time (2017)

While making a second attempt to cross from Indonesia to Australia Boochani was intercepted and detained on Christmas Island then transferred to Manus Island detention centre in August 2013.

Incarceration did not stop him writing poetry and reports, and his articles have been published by The Guardian (The day my friend Hamid Kehazaei died; There was our silence and their violence as Manus camp was evacuated; Manus police pulled my hair and beat me. ‘You’ve damaged our reputation,’ they said) and Australia’s Saturday Paper (Life on Manus: island of the damned).

While Cassey’s pictures encapsulate events the Australian government never intended us to see, Boochani’s photography and video provides a view from the other side of the security mesh and razor wire, its deliberate lack of action effectively conveying a world of boredom and slowly creeping despair.

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Behrouz Boochani (cinematographer/editor) and Arash Kamali Sarvestani (editor/producer) Frame from the documentary Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time (2017)
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Behrouz Boochani (cinematographer/editor) and Arash Kamali Sarvestani (editor/producer) Frame from the documentary Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time (2017)

Proceeds from the $5 entry to the Brian Cassey’s exhibition will be donated to Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

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