Mare Nostrum – the photograph In June 2014 Massimo Sestini was working on the Bergamini Frigate, during the Mare Nostrum Operation (MNO) organized by the Italian government, in response to the drowning of hundreds of migrants off the Island of Lampedusa on the 3rd October 2013. MNO involved the Italian Red Cross, Save the Children and other NGOs in an effort not only to rescue lives, but also to provide medical help, counselling and cultural support to people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
On the 7th of June 2014 after many stormy days on board of the Bergamini Frigate, they could spot an extremely crowded boat and flew over it with an helicopter. All the people on the boat looked up at the helicopter as they immediately understood that they were safe, at last.
Massimo Sestini had been planning and – literally – dreaming of taking that specific photograph since 2013. He didn’t simply want to take a picture of a boat full of migrants but he intended to capture that very particular moment.
That day Massimo Sestini managed to take the photograph he was dreaming of and, somehow, the picture started living by itself: it was selected for TIME’s Top 10 photos of 2014 and won 2015 World Press Photo Award in the category General News. Since then it has been published hundreds of times on numerous international magazines and it has been featured in some international humanitarian campaigns, like for example UNHCR’s Millions Have Fled Conflict- Please Help Today
Most of the images featured in the photo-reportage that Massimo realized on the Bergamini Frigate have been turned into a video - directed by Gabriella Guido and Rosalba Ferba, with texts by Erri De Luca and music by Giovanni Luisi - an extended 7 minutes version has been presented for the first time at Rome Film Fest 2015.
WRU? – the project Since Massimo took that photograph, he has wondered many times what happened to all those people, how their life has changed in Europe.
After a person from Switzerland informed us he recognized a relative of his in that photograph, we decided to start working on the project. Knowing that at least one out of the 500 migrants that were rescued from that tiny boat in 2014 had started a new life in Europe was a truly inspiring news and gave us the idea of creating a photographic project: Where Are You?
“It was a sort of epiphany. All of a sudden I thought it would be great to be able to find all these people again and find out how they are living now, if and where they managed to settle down.”
So on the 4th of October 2015 we launched a website page: www.massimosestini.it/wru.html to get in touch with as many people that were on that boat as possible, to document their new life and tell their story.
We spread an appeal on social networks and websites to ask everyone to take a look at Massimo's photograph hoping that someone would actually recognized some of the people portrayed there.
Where Are You? is going to be a work-in-progress, but the main idea is to ask all the people that we will manage to trace back to tell us their story through objects, images, writings, videos. Most likely every story will be different, so we would really like to give everyone the possibility to choose the media they prefer to tell their experience.
We would like to create a visual testimony of what happened to that particular group of refugees and migrants after they were rescued. We would like to show what rarely gets in the news: the refugees daily life beyond their emergency rescues.
Campaign – spreading the news Thanks to the interest of many people, including journalists, fellow photographers and humanitarian organizations Where Are You? Project has appeared on a large number of websites and social networks. As Massimo Sestini said during an interview:
“Luckily today so many people are constantly connected to the web and this virtual network we tried to create by launching our very simple appeal has soon started to bear fruit. Exactly a week after launching the website page dedicated to the project Where Are You?, 10 October 2015 at 5.40 PM a message arrived on Massimo Sestini's Facebook page: Hello Mr. Sestini, How are you? I was in that boat and twenty–five others, we are all living together in Napoli. Receiving this message was amazing, it is just a start of course, but it means things are moving and - professionally speaking - it represents the really strong bound that every photographer develops with his images.”
This is a project against the fear that has spread in Europe, an irrational fear. Where Are You? is an attempt to give a face to all the ones that nowadays are often conceived as an undifferentiated herd. The role of a photo-reporter in these circumstances is different than usual, the goal is no longer to capture images that will be published on magazines and newspapers, but to spread a message that might improve a muticultural dialogue a increase cross-racial integration and encourage the respect of diversity.