A Million Shillings: Escape From Somalia

Discussion in 'Book, Magazine, Gallery Reviews, Shows & Contests' started by Joooorsh, Oct 7, 2011.

  1. Joooorsh

    Joooorsh Member

    Oct 7, 2011
    Blue Mountai
    This is a working draft of a review that I wrote for a friend's blog, which was supposed to be a recurring thing but is temporarily on hiatus.

    Any feedback would be much appreciated, as I have a few more reviews to write once I finish these assessments and I want to nail down my writing.

    Images have been removed as I'm still waiting for Trolley Books to send me the press images.

    Oh and yeah I'm josh and this is my first post so go me.

    A Million Shillings: Escape from Somalia

    A Million Shillings: Escape from Somalia is an extremely powerful representation of two years’ work by Alixandra Fazzina, a highly awarded photographer of poorly documented conflicts and the disastrous results of war. Fazzina has previously worked as a war artist in Bosnia and as an independent photojournalist throughout Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. She has since compiled advocacy programs and documented work for NGOs such as Concern, Oxfam, Save The Children and Human Rights Watch. For her work documenting people smuggling and the often forgotten consequences of war as presented in A Million Shillings, Fazzina was awarded the 2010 Nansen Refugee Award by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

    A Million Shillings: Escape from Somalia is an uncompromising documentation of the exodus of Somali and Ethiopian refugees through people smuggling routes from the horn of Africa, across the Gulf of Aden, and into various locations across Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Within its pages Fazzina presents an emotionally compelling, and ultimately an infuriatingly depressing, documentary of the plight of many Somali and Ethiopian refugees and migrants. A Million Shillings is an imposing example of what twenty first century photojournalism should strive to present: a powerfully accurate presentation of an undocumented struggle to eke out a human existence in what can only be described as a wasteland permeated at every level by corruption, misery, and opportunistic malefactors. At each chapter the viewer is presented with hope in the worst of situations, a hope that later legs of this perilous journey will bring the freedom and prosperity so desperately sought after. Unfortunately, throughout the journey the theme of disappointment and false hope is to be repeated constantly: lights at the end of each tunnel are promptly extinguished and supplanted by an overwhelming atmosphere of unchecked violence and constant struggle for survival.

    This work is separated into eight equally unsettling chapters which focus on different stages of the Tahrib’s (emigrant’s) journey. Fazzina presents compelling and masterfully composed imagery at each stage, from the outset in Somalia to the final, astonishingly disappointing, search for a new life in Yemen. Fazzina examines characters throughout each stage and presents them in an aesthetically interesting and morally compelling manner, creating a dichotomy between beauty and sadness that can only be described as polar. Scenes of joy and entertainment are marred by the context of hopeless suffering, and serve only to punctuate sections populated intensely by scenes depicting infant mortality, the breakdown of families, decimating malnutrition, and rampaging violence.

    The collection of photographs has been captured in a multitude of locations and mostly consists of powerful low light exposures and beautiful daytime scenes filled with a vibrancy which seems out of place under the circumstances. Darker scenes are extremely compelling and raw: figures often appear as blurred shadowy masses, whilst what light is present reveals only destitution and despair. Portable lighting, in the form of bare fluorescent tubes, is employed occasionally throughout several sections and often appears as the only source of light within refugee camps and hideaways. The effect of this light adds to the bleak presentation of Fazzina’s subject matter and the overall sense of despair which permeates all scenes captured throughout A Million Shillings. Daylight and other illuminated scenes are rendered in fantastic full colour, with exceptionally vibrant colours juxtaposing the photography’s subject matter quite harshly. Scenes of intense violence are presented in vivid detail, with the immediacy of mortal danger being effectively communicated at all points throughout this stark documentary. The aftermath of these scenes is also presented with absolute candour, which emphasizes that, in this business, deaths under the most violent of circumstances are commonplace.

    Each image presented has obviously been carefully selected and compiled, as there is no section within this work that feels like ‘filler’, there is not an image to found here that is not worth a considerable amount of pondering by the reader or which does not clearly present the Somali struggle for survival. At nearly four hundred pages this truly speaks to the quality of Fazzina herself, but also is indicative of the enormity of the situation. The scale of the issue is presented quite bluntly in the foreword by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, but it is Fazzina’s photography of UNHCR Al-Kharaz in particular which drives home the message that even those Somali to overcome the insurmountable odds and do eventually reach Yemen, a meager existence as poverty stricken refugees is all that awaits them.

    Ultimately, the reader is presented with a variety of people who face danger and death at every turn. Had it not been presented through the photographic medium, one would scarcely believe the conditions faced by those fleeing Somalia and would undoubtedly consider it the fiction of some dystopian author. The imagery presented is so far removed from pre-conceived Western notions of poverty, danger, and hopelessness, that the reader is forced to reconsider their comprehension of quality of life in general. Effectively forcing readers to reexamine their worldview, this document goes so far beyond the typically presented view of Africa as to be depressingly incomprehensible at times – so as to have readers emotionally mirroring many of A Million Shillings’ subjects – with its portrayal of what can only be described as closer to hell than any person should ever be forced to tread.

    A Million Shillings was published by Trolley Books in 2010. I purchased my copy from The Book Depository for $40.05 (with free shipping). It is hardcover, printing on thick, high quality paper, resulting in pages that are quite weighted and have an excellent feel. Overall, the book is of outstanding quality, physically, and the printing mirrors this with intensely vivid colour printing. It is probably one of the most beautifully presented photography books that I own, comparable only to my other books from Trolley Books and my (much more expensive) compendiums of Stanley Kubrick and Ansel Adams.

    My apologies for any stylistic errors, I'm posting from tapatalk. Likewise if this book has already been covered, search isn't great on the tapatapatapa.

    Also I'd post the link but apparently I need more posts!