Nomadic Photography, on the Role of Images and Cultural Cohesion
Pictures are all around us. On our phones, social media, billboards, laptop screens. They define the way we see the other. Or they help us imagine how our loved ones in places far away, experience daily life. Eva Diallo is a Suisse-Senegalese photographer born in 1996. Already as a child, she started capturing the life of her family members in Senegal through the lens of her camera.
In this podcast, Eva also explores the values and imaginary concepts that live within the Fula community which she calls her own. When it comes to migration, she tries to see the bigger picture. Framing the feelings of belonging, pride and solidarity are just as important as the mere search for a better life.
Marianne: Eva Diallo is a young photographer. She comes from two worlds: Senegal and Switzerland, where she was born in 1996. So even though she is still very young, I think she is experienced and wise. I wonder if this is perhaps because of this mix: the richness of being part of two cultures.
Today she is based in St Louis (nothern Senegal) and uses her camera to illustrate stories of migration, bridging two worlds. In front of her lens are often her family members, which can create an awkward intimacy … but it is as if, for her, this is inevitable.
Eva Diallo: So, I would say that I was lucky to have a mother who was very close to her Senegalese roots and family. From a very young age, she got my brother and I used to come to Senegal several times a year. Since I was born, I’ve been in Senegal every school holiday and I’ve always been very close to my family here. So, I think that as soon as I finished my studies in Switzerland, I said to myself that it was time to live close to this side of my family.
Eva Diallo: They always wanted to see the environment in which we grew up, though pictures as well. I remember very well that when I was young, every summer we would come, and the first thing we would do for a couple of days was look at all the pictures we had on our phones and on our cameras. We wanted to see what it looked like on the other side. I think we managed to keep in touch through pictures and the phone. Even when I was there, we used to call each other a lot with video. So that’s kind of how I was able to keep in touch.
Marianne: Images always had a central place, in the relation with others but also the relation between herself and the world. Photography was already part of Eva’s life from an early age.
Eva Diallo: I was young when I started taking pictures, especially in my village, in my mother’s village in the north of Senegal. In fact, it felt very natural to take pictures of my family members and to take pictures of each other. It wasn’t not only images of them, but images of us, in fact, that’s how it started. And aferwards? When I started studying in Switzerland, I used those pictures of my Senegalese village for my university entry tests.
Marianne: I wondered whether photos could do more than connect families. Can they help to understand the reality of others?
Eva Diallo: In countries where perhaps education is not necessarily accessible at all levels, images often speak louder and can tell a lot. Especially for those people who don’t know how to read or write. The image speaks to everyone. And so, I think that as a photographer, if I can show what happens, witness people’s journeys, I can reach those people who don’t necessarily have the means to read articles on migration or listen to the stories that happen in Italy, France or Spain, in the rest of Europe, in a foreign language.
Marianne: When did the idea to photograph migrants comes to mind?
Eva Diallo: The stories of all these people who have taken such dangerous roads in which they risk their lives is a phenomenon that touches me deeply also because of my family history, because my mother left Senegal at a very young age and arrived in Switzerland and she had to grow up as a woman and as a mother in a country that was not her own and build her whole life around that, also keeping the link with her family back home. No one else from her relatives came to Europe, she is the only one. I think that through my mother’s story, I was touched by the journey of all these people who left their country.
I’ve been working on a migration for about five years now. When I was a student, I had a six-month internship as a photographer’s assistant in my last year. And I worked for a photographer called Samuel Garretta Cap, who is French, and we were based in Italy. That’s when I started working in the refugee camps in the South, we were in Puglia where, for six months, I worked in the refugee camps where we took testimonies from migrants, and we made pictures, obviously, and that’s when it started. And after that, I couldn’t step out of the topic and I realized that I worked much better when the issue at stake upset me. And there, it was quite clear. There are so many things to say about migration, that I I’ve been working around it ever since.
Marianne: Talking about refugee camps is different from telling the story of your own family to the world.
Eva Diallo:It’s quite delicate to speak about ourselves or issues that affect us. It’s always very intense and intimate. It’s a bit like revealing a part of yourself to people who don’t necessarily know you. And I admit that when I must talk about my family, it’s always delicate, I’m always trying to bridge the gap between what I agree to reveal to a third party, to people who don’t know my personal history and the members of my family at all, and the duty to testify, the responsibility to show the reality. And then there’s also the element of tribute I am trying to pay them.
Eva Diallo: We have a duty to bear witness so that their stories are not forgotten. Because it’s their story but also the story of thousands of people. So, if I have the possibility of having stories like that in my surroundings, it seems important to me to be able to put them forward.
Marianne: Since we started talking about family, I want to know everything. Let’s start with your cousins.
Eva Diallo: Three of them are living now in Italy, but the two men I am working on are not migrants who took the boat to Spain directly from Senegal. They went overland, over Libya, all the way to Italy.
Marianne: What motivated them to undertake this rather risky journey through places like Libya?
Eva Diallo: The dream to have the best and the West was an evidence. I think, like many, they imagine that they will have much more than what they have here and that they will then be able to give a chance to the people who are here: their mother, brothers, the rest of the family. They will be able to give them a better quality of life. In the case of my family, once the goal is reached financially, they plan to come back to Senegal, reaching a certain financial level and be able to come back.
Eva Diallo: I come from a Fulani family where dignity is something very, very important. It’s quite easy to notice. Fulani men are very, very proud and have lots of dignity. To show oneself in a disadvantageous way is often something that is very, very tough for them. I have a cousin, a woman, who is in Italy and I see that she tries to tell the real story, of what it’s really like to live there … at the other side, the men are perhaps more inclined to hide the ugly part, not to disappoint.
Marianne: I knew that traditionally the Fulani community is known for being great travelers. For centuries they have travelled the continent and beyond in search of pasture. What I didn’t know was that even today the migration experience can be different for members of this community.
Eva Diallo: Ethnicity brings people together. At least in Senegal or West Africa, the Fulani are present in all the big cities, and many shops are run by Fulani. Someone who comes from a village to a big city is bound to get close to people with whom he can speak the same language. This creates an environment in which they feel comfortable and welcomed, outside of their own family. Fulani people will always be welcomed by other Fulani people because of their ethnicity. It’s a way of feeling a bit at home, even very far away from your village.
Eva Diallo: We’ve always been moving around, first to lead the cattle to places with more grass in dry years. So, I think it’s something that’s already in our genes. It’s a bit presumptuous maybe, but I think that this ethnic group is much more likely than others to move around and get out of their comfort zone. And without effort, how can I put it, integrate into societies that are not necessarily those in which they grew up. Then again, maybe it’s a generalization, I don’t realize it because again since it concerns my history and what I’ve seen, as I saw my mother integrate in Switzerland or as I see my cousins integrating now, whether in Italy or France. Well, I say to myself that there are perhaps other ethnic groups or other countries in which the customs or habits and traditions are perhaps a little further away from the world in which we grew up.
Marianne: After talking so much about migration, I still wanted to know: Does Eva consider herself a migrant?
Eva Diallo: No, not really. It seems a bit strange to me, given the privileges I had growing up, etc., to consider myself a migrant in my mother’s country.
Marianne: Thank you for listening to this episode of our migr’histoires series. To follow the other episodes of the series, please visit the Yenna channel or your favorite streaming platform.
This podcast is produced by IOM and funded by the UK government.