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norbert baksa refugee shoot
One of the images from Der Migrant, by Norbert BaksaNorbert Baksa

Hungarian photographer criticised for ‘migrant-chic’ shoot

Norbert Baksa says that his project was not intended to offend but his fashion shots channeling the refugee crisis haven’t gone down well

Hungarian fashion photographer Norbert Baksa is facing a wave of criticism regarding a photoshoot he conducted that places model Monika Jablonczky at a "border", stood behind barbed wire and grappling with police officers, a clear nod to refugees and the crisis that has dominated headlines for the past few months. Many have hit out at the shoot, labelling it "sick", "tasteless" and "a really bad idea".

Despite the backlash, Baksa has defended the shoot on his website. "I hoped people would realize that the situation is very complex and see that they are taking stands based on partial or biased information," he said. "Many people have grabbed the meaning of the material and appreciate it for what it is meant to mean. To people who said I am stupid, I can only say they should examine the problem from different angles, all the more that they do not live in Hungary, so they do not experience it first hand. It is very difficult to understand from the news coverage whether these people are indeed refugees or something else."

Hungary’s response to the refugee crisis has been unimpressive, with officials caught on camera kicking and beating people seeking shelter, deploying water cannons and tear gas and building a razorwire fence around the border.

Baksa emailed us this statement regarding the shoot: "We chose the title to be in German for several reasons. First and foremost, Germany is the leading power of the European Union and most migrants wish to live in Germany. Choosing the masculine form while picturing a woman also points out the fact that the issue of migrants can be and is viewed in different manners, some will see refugee families with small children fleeing for their lives, while others only see masses of riotous migrants or even terrorists attacking police and representing a threat on our societies.

"I expected extreme reactions, but the photo series is precisely intended to make people with extreme opinions stop for a minute and examine the issue from another standpoint instead of making quick judgments, especially since reports are most of the time biased in one way or the other, so virtually nobody can see the big picture. We tried to highlight this fact. We were certain that some people would regard the material as a provocation, but we also hoped people would realize the background thoughts I also shared on my website.

"My Hungarian background influenced the photos in that I live in Hungary, I see the issue on a daily basis, pro and con. I met people from both sides and realized how differently they see the issue. What I mostly do not appreciate is the expression of extreme opinions without having all the exact information.

"By using the article DER while figuring a woman on the pictures, we wanted to highlight that people get subjective information from the media, but the actual situation is completely different. With the photo series, we wanted to hold a mirror to the media; the pictures were taken based on photographs already published in the media, that is what we reproduced! The series features pictures that awake both pro and con feelings. The series is not a stand, neither pro nor con and we did not mean to offend anybody; we can only hope that negative extreme judgments regarding this topic will subside."

According to RFERL, Baksa claims that he’s "received many requests for publishing from various countries". If there’s a suggestion that Baksa is willing to donate any money to refugees seeking clothing or housing, then the notion that he’s appropriated suffering would perhaps be easier to stomach.