There is No Sovereign Author
Nicolas Prignot

In 2015, citizens organized to assist migrants settled in Brussels' Maximilian Park. As the Belgian government decided to limit the number of requests that the administration would be allowed to process per day, queues to submit asylum requests lengthened. Migrants had to wait. A camp formed in the park near the administration, and citizens strove to offer a decent welcome to those who have fled their home countries. A few months later, the temporary camp was dismantled, yet the citizen dynamic did not weaken.

In what conditions are asylum seekers welcomed from the moment of filing their asylum request to their obtaining of refugee status or their expulsion? Who are these people and what do they expect from Europe? This photographic project was built around these questions. It is a testimony to those who await the Belgian state's response to their asylum applications in the Jodoigne asylum seekers' center, an open center opened about 50 km from the Belgian capital.

Life in this center is punctuated by administrative procedures, questioning by the CGRA (the administration in charge of evaluating asylum requests), the steps to prove one’s identity and story, to convince the authorities of one’s right to asylum. Asylum seekers wait, stopped in an often violent migratory route, not allowed to settle permanently, nor to travel elsewhere. The answer is uncertain, and may be an order to leave the territory or an authorization to start rebuilding a new life here. Some wait for years before reaching the end of these multiple procedures.

The photographers focused on this place, and visited it often. They tried to create links, to exchange experiences, to produce sometimes fleeting encounters, but which require work and time. Their will was to above all not repeat the questionings, not to produce wretched images, but, through the connections woven, to produce portraits that testify to who these people are, to their lives, and their force.

Three forms were used, according to the circumstances, without aesthetic a priori and without a hierarchy of forms of images. The first was documentary, showing the living spaces, the traces of past lives, the circumstances of their reception. It allowed the photographers to walk in the labyrinth of the center, to circulate around the buildings, to be seen, to gradually become part of the place, without being facilitators, educators or police. Little by little, the photographers were invited by the inhabitants to enter the refectory and some people's rooms, and to also share the intimacy of smartphone images.

The second form was produced in portrait workshops, organized for the center's inhabitants. In a studio recreated on each visit, made of blue sheets of paper used as a backdrop, a flash and a chair, the authors photographed those who wished, and immediately printed the results. This form was manipulated, colored, inhabited, mixed, drowned in pastels, transcended with pencils, torn, glued, folded. Everyone intervened and appropriated their portrait, beyond the language barrier. The portraits produced were displayed in the private rooms, but also on the outer walls of the center, an additional temporary space of exchange. Sometimes, half photos were offered to the children, so that they could appropriate them too.

The third form were photocopies : portraits done by the children, using the main tool of the bureaucracy of their waiting that the photographers gave them access to. Paper echoed papers, forms and questionnaires, and their much-awaited administrative papers. These images were raw, direct, like the mail that decides their fate : a "positive" or a "negative" response to their asylum application.

All images are a construction. Those that compose this book are constructions too, and take advantage of this constructed character to create meetings, to initiate a work that allow us to glimpse the Other in his or her singularity, familiarity and difference. The photographs are as valuable in themselves as they are in what they made possible, and continue to make possible today. The authorship of the image is a shared role, and this requires allowing oneself to be transformed by the answer of the person posing for the portrait, then appropriating it. The person behind the lens is a producer and produced by the construction processes.

These photographs are somewhere "between", like those who are waiting here, between a place to live and a place to flee. They inhabit this space of the relation, this middle way between the passive and the active form, as what is required by the fact of "letting oneself be affected by something". In this way, there is no sovereign author, no center of the action, only distributions of intensities, which allow multiple gazes and interpretations.