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Photography project focuses on asylum seekers

Researchers at Tampere University want to use photography to investigate how asylum seekers see themselves and how they view authorities.

Turvapaikanhakija istuu nurmikolla ja nojaa puuhun.
Image: Eeva Puumala

Asylum seekers can be pigeonholed when they arrive in Finland, with little attention paid to their joys and tragedies. Eeva Puumala of Tampere University wants to use photography to get beyond that stereotype and find out how asylum seekers themselves would like to be viewed.

Her template is Miina Savolainen’s critically-acclaimed ’Loveliest girl in the world’ project, in which Savolainen worked with girls in care. She took photographs in locations they chose, allowing them a fairytale unreality to reinvent themselves.

Puumala’s project aims to give asylum seekers similar creative freedom.

”The same thing works for asylum seekers,” says Puumala.

”Five people are taking part in the research,” says Puumala. ”They will be photographed how they choose, in places they choose, over half a year. Everyone has so far been photographed once.”

In her doctoral dissertation last year, Puumala looked at how political discourse filtered through to the individual level. She was left with questions that required further research.

”Through photographs all kinds of feelings come to the surface—happiness and hopes, but also deep sadness,” says Puumala.

In her research she also goes through asylum seekers’ relationships with the authorities.

”This focuses on the asylum interview, which lasts 6-8 hours,” says Puumala. ”During the interview the basis for asylum is investigated. Reliving traumatic experiences is tough.”

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