In the Farhana border crossing one can easily observe the terms in which the contemporary colonial encounter is taking place in the context of a globalized and neoliberal world order. Farhana is part of the highly contested border of the fortress Europe has chosen to become: the creation of the European Economic Area and the Schengen space with their violent dynamics of inclusion and exclusion has made journeys much more dangerous and even lethal. The border police of the Spanish enclave of Melilla in Northern Africa routinely check for cars used by people smuggling mafias operating on both sides of the barbed wire fence. Once a victim of these traffickers is found inside a car, the driver is arrested and will most likely face a minimum four-year custodial sentence. These images have been taken in the course of these operations and then made available to news agencies and newspapers through the online archive of the police.

Having permission to access the archive, I have instead chosen to collect these images from the local and national newspapers that have published news related to these police operations. Selecting this place of appropriation allows me to make reference to the process of production, distribution and consumption of these photographs. In fact, the time of the images in this project is not the time of the specific police operations, but that of its signifying practice in society. The original value of these images is negotiated between its intentional referent, the documentation of the operations against human smugglers, and what is later placed in a symbolic regime of representation: a discursive construction of migrants as intruders intensively articulated in the body of the news story and later in many comments left by readers. Farhana is an attempt to reconsider this photographic practice without the mediation of the institutions that first produced, disseminated and prescribed their value. Beyond the debris left behind by customs and forensic probes and the inventory of alterations made to vehicles, these images consistently reveal re-enactments, performances, fractured representations of the body, erased faces, empty spaces, traces of presences, absences, encounters, relief and trophies. Also, there is a selective right to the representation of the body being exerted in these police images: The traffickers are always kept outside the constructed frame of the scene and only their victims, who will later provide testimonial evidence, occupy the reading surface of the image. The camera sifts through these wreckages to show them hidden, twisted, bent out of shape with their faces placed outside the frame. Sometimes a black bar is placed on their eyes in postproduction, but preventing an encounter with their eyes, their faces and the dignity of their bodies allows a new function to emerge beyond identification and reminder of police power: to define these migrant bodies. That is to say, their supposed “illegality” is rather a construction, a result of this institutional meaning-making practice.

Personally I can only see a strong sense of agency in these legal victims of trafficking, a determined migratory project and their resistance to discriminatory entry policies. These journeys are indeed a social, economic and political phenomenon, but also the object of vigorous forces claiming its hegemonic representation.

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Farhana all images/ video © Ministerio del Interior/ Guardia Civil (2008 - 2017)