As a photographer whose work belongs both in the field of visual arts and photojournalism, Samuel Gratacap is interested in the phenomena of migration and transit areas generated by contemporary conflicts. His projects are the result of long periods of immersion, the time needed to understand the complexity of situations and to restore what, beyond numbers, flows, maps, geopolitical data, and media news, constitutes the heart: trajectories and personal experiences.
His ambitious Empire project is the result of several visits he made to the Choucha refugee camp, located in Tunisia, a few kilometres from the Libyan border, between 2012 and 2014. For several years (as of February 2011), this UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) emergency camp received hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflicts in neighbouring Libya, as well as those in West Africa and the Horn of Africa. Although it officially closed in June 2013, several hundred refugees and asylum-seekers have continued to live there, in a state of growing abandonment.
The images that make up Empire reflect moments of life, adaptation to the hostility of the environment, but also commitment. They include faces, gestures, pieces of desert, makeshift constructions, protest messages, “wandering souls” criss-crossing the camp. Together they sketch the outlines of a situation in suspense: “My work,” says the artist, “reflects the space-time specificities of this living place shaped by wait. Wait due to the different stages of asylum applications for refugees, combined with the tension of those suspended destinies in a same temporary site that became perennial by circumstances, to finally disappear.”
Stamped with a temporality that contrasts with that of the images on which the media feeds, Samuel Gratacap’s photographs also relate to a search for forms entirely driven by the desire to give substance, with accuracy, to singular experiences. Photographic prints in various formats are joined by series of polaroids, a set of images pasted directly to the wall, the transcription of testimonies, a map drawn by the artist, and video sequences. It is as though it were a question of trying to restore the singularity of Choucha’s voices through these multiple bursts: “There is not one story of Choucha,” says Gratacap, “but as many stories as the number of people who have lived there.”
Paul di Felice, Pierre Stiwer (Café-Crème asbl)
The exhibition Empire by Samuel Gratacap is organised in collaboration with Café-Crème asbl within the framework of the 6th edition of the European Month of Photography in Luxembourg. It was originally produced by LE BAL (Paris), where it was presented from 11 September to 4 October 2015. On this occasion, it received the support of Adagp, Copie Privée, SFR, Fonds de dotation agnès b., CNAP, FNAGP and Hugues Aubry.