The young man says just two words – “photo, please!”. But they mean a lot, to him and to his family.
September 2016: seasoned photo-journalist Fabrizio Villa, on assignment for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, is on board of the Italian Navy vessel Cigala Fulgosi, which is involved in rescue efforts in the Mediterranean Sea some 25 nautical miles off the coast of Libya. An overcrowded smuggling boat, dozens of desperate migrants screaming, frantic scenes, chaos, hope and despair – all this was yesterday. Today, the day after a rescue operation, the atmosphere on the vessel is a bit quieter and Villa is taking pictures from the deck, when a young man waves at him – “photo, please!” – while arranging himself, his wife and his little daughter in a family-portrait setting.
“While covering rescue missions as a photo reporter, sometimes I have found myself smiled at by migrants even in the worst circumstances” says Villa, “but this is something new and totally unexpected”. By the time he gets to the family, they are ready – all the photographer has to do is frame, focus and click.
It looks like something magic is happening and I feel deeply humbled.
It’s a small task but it feels huge, as I am honouring their request – this makes me feel important.
— Fabrizio Villa
So Villa frames, focuses and clicks.
The result is a wonderfully powerful portrait – it oozes dignity and decorum.
Posting it on social media, Villa says that the portrait reminds him of a Nativity scene. Rightly so.
We know little or nothing of this family. It’s very likely that they come from Eritrea and that they are escaping famine and violence. What we do know is that the young man, in just two words, is asking for his family’s identity to be recognised, is pursuing his quest for normality, is creating his memory. And our collective memory, too.
Sitting on the deck of a foreign ship and gently showing off their baby girl to the world, they are saying: we made it. We are alive, therefore we pose. Wherever we are, we stand together as a family, and that’s how we want to be seen.