Lesbos, Greece 2018

by Justen Ahren Issue: Spring/Summer 2019

Artist's Statement

Since 2015, Lesbos, Greece has been at the epicenter of the European refugee crises. Tens of thousands of Syrians, Afghanis, Iraqis, and others have made the ocean crossing from Turkey to Europe packed in small boats and inflatable rafts.

In 2018, I volunteered with A Drop in the Ocean, a Norwegian NGO, assisting with the nighttime patrolling and rescuing of people coming ashore. The coast of Lesvos is littered with landing sites. There are slashed life rafts, blankets, shoes, hairbrushes, and other personal items, among the debris dropped during the chaos of a landing. As a volunteer, I was forbidden to photograph refugees. So, I turned the camera to what was left behind at these landing sites.

I’ve always been interested in using photography and, for that matter, writing, to document what remains in the landscapes physical and mental. After an event, a place has a different gravity, ghosts, a history.  I’m not a photojournalist. I’m not looking to create a facsimile of a place. I want my images to ‘feel’ and carry feeling. I want them to be contain the haunting, I felt while standing among 40,000 lifejackets. Each one held a life, its hope and fear. My photos should carry this, too. To approach this intensity of feeling, I develop my work in high contrast, black and white. I want viewers to feel the heaviness of these wet life jackets, the life held in the clothes hanging in the trees.

Justen Ahren

Justen Ahren is a photographer, poet, multi-media artist, performer and teacher.  His creative work has taken him all over the world as a musician, poet, facilitator and collaborator.  Regardless of which medium Mr. Ahren employees, one thing remains consistent: the works social and political involvement.  Mr. Ahren is the author of two collections of poetry, A Strange Catechism, and A Machine for Remembering; and an album, The War for the Valley.  His multimedia performances, combine poetry, music and projected images to tell the stories of refugees he met as a volunteer in Lesvos, Greece.