critical analysis of an image
artist: Nikos Economopoulos
relevant information: this photograph was taken in Yemen, at a Somalian refugee camp. Towards the end of 1992 (the year in which this photograph was taken), 700 Somalians fled their homeland as a result of civil war, eventually bringing the number of Somalian refugees in Yemen up to c.60,000.
This image could be interpreted by a viewer in a number of ways. Initially, the eyes of the viewer are drawn to the fencing upon which the children are climbing. This alone could be interpreted in one of two ways – keeping the refugees in, or keeping something else (potentially something more sinister, like the threat of civil war) out. Also, due to the fact that they are climbing the metal fencing, it may be interpreted by some as Economopoulos documenting the escape of the Somalians from the refugee camps. However, once the attention is diverted onto the children climbing the fence, this interpretation is proven wrong; mainly due to the looks of joy upon their faces. This, therefore, indicates that the inside of this fence – the side where they, and the photographer, are situated – is a place of safety and happiness. Knowing the context of the image, this is probably the case. Whereas in their home country of Somalia, there is on-going civil war; knowing that they are residing in a safe place must be a comfort and a blessing to the children within this photograph.
What would have been negative space in the bottom half of the image is, instead, where the shadows of the children are positioned within the photograph. This composition is particularly interesting, as it depicts separation and detachment, perhaps mirroring their escape from Somalia. However, the detached shadows could also signify a sense of freedom – or else be a symbol of the Somalian citizens who had died as a result of the civil war, as the shadows look almost like bodies lying upon the sand.
Beyond both the children and the fencing, there is a wide stretch of empty land. This landmass could signify the idea of the unknown, and the children climbing the fence towards it could represent the political predicament of Somalia at the time – therefore the image could be interpreted as showing Somalia heading towards an unknown future, especially if the civil war was to continue (which it did until 1995 when the US intervened).