Fashion Photographer Turns Refugee Crisis Into Offensive High-End Fashion Shoot

This is bad, even for the fashion world.

Photo: Norbert Baksa.

Hungarian fashion photographer Norbert Baksa has come under fire for a refugee-themed fashion photo shoot he conceptualized and shot at the Hungarian border. “Der Migrant,” which features models wearing headscarves and designer duds before a backdrop of barbed wire fences, was released on the photographer’s personal website and Twitter account last week to predictably less-than-stellar reviews.

According to the New York Times, within hours of uploading the images to the web, Baksa became the subject of a barrage of angry tweets and critical articles from across the globe.

Photo: Norbert Baksa.

Photo: Norbert Baksa.

In addition to the sheer absurdity of trying to make “migrant chic” happen while thousands of people are attempting to pass through a narrow gap in razor-wire fence in order to escape war and persecution, one of the most controversial images from the series actually shows a model pretending to take a selfie at the barbed wire border with a phone that bears a Chanel logo on the case. Her shirt is unbuttoned and one of her breasts is exposed, which is a styling choice that feels especially tone-deaf given the cultural and religious backgrounds of many of those fleeing Syria.

Photo: Norbert Baksa.

Photo: Norbert Baksa.

The photographs, Baksa writes in a statement, were “not intended to glamourize this clearly bad situation,” but “to draw the attention to the problem and make people think about it.” Baksa has previously shot for popular magazines like Elle, Playboy, and Cosmopolitan, and noted that the images he created were based off of real photographs of refugees attempting to cross the border.

“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 writes. “This is exactly what we wanted to picture: you see a suffering woman, who is also beautiful and despite her situation, has some high quality pieces of outfit and a smartphone.”

Except, we’re pretty sure the people being beaten while trying to enter the country have other concerns rather than their “high quality pieces of outfit” and to present it as though they do clearly trivializes the gravity of the situation.

The fashion world, of course, has a terrible track record of addressing social and political issues. From French magazine Numéro using a white model wearing bronzer for an “African queen”-themed photo shoot to Russian magazine Buro 24/7 posting an image of Dasha Zhukova atop Bjarne Melgaard‘s artwork depicting a black woman as a chair, at this point it almost feels like we’ve seen it all.

Last spring’s Derelicte trend was bad enough. For a photographer to provoke this much ire means that a refugee-themed photo shoot truly is an awful idea.

Update: Baksa has chosen to remove the images from his website, telling BBC News: “Considering the heated emotions and because, despite our intentions, many unfortunately consider the pictures offending, we have decided to remove the series from our website.”

Photo: Norbert Baksa.

Photo: Norbert Baksa.


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