"Take me to Jermany" is a phrase asylum seekers often mentioned to Charlotte Schmitz and wrote on Polaroid pictures as she photographed on the Greek Island Lesvos, at the Greek/Macedonian border, and in Turkey. While it was a joke, the underlying desire was obvious: In 2015, many people fleeing war and persecution took the dangerous sea route from Turkey to Greece in search of a new home in Europe. Germany accepted a large number of asylum-seekers and took a leading role in coordinating the EU’s response to handle the migrant crisis, thus becoming a symbol of a new "welcome culture" (in German: Willkommenskultur).
The positive attitude didn't last long – migration is a sensitive issue in European politics. Right-wing movements capitalized on this crisis by using it as an opportunity to rally voters by portraying refugees as alien threats to the continent. As a result, xenophobia dominated the debate and options were reduced to accept more refugees. A very clear outcome of this situation is that it destabilized the European political systems within member states and the Union as a whole. Dubious deals have been made between the EU, Turkey, and other countries to prevent migrants from crossing borders. These circumstances and decisions drove refugees to take more dangerous routes and left many stranded on Greek islands while living under very poor conditions. A young refugee in Greece subsumed the whole calamity as he wrote on his Polaroid picture: »I see only Humans, not Humanity.«
Charlotte sees the people she photographs as active participants in her work. She hands them a space to tell their own stories and to express themselves in their own words – mostly their native languages – in addition to the visual language of the photographs. This has made them co-authors and adds a dimension to the process that humanizes what otherwise is just a still picture. Charlotte reaches beyond the medium and the media and believes in the importance of using her role as a professional photographer to mediate positive change. Her work focuses on how activism can be part of the process rather than just the conventional creation of an image.
Through her works she brings contemporary social issues back to the public debate by presenting it in a new perspective, and in the process raising awareness and engaging a wider audience. This is especially important given that the most vulnerable among us are often not represented enough in mainstream media. Charlotte challenges prejudices and influences perceptions through photography. This work has not only noticeably politicized the artist further, but is also the source of her following works in using participatory approaches which challenge the traditional documentary perspectives. In recent years, Charlotte has both launched and participated in collaborative projects to help refugees in Europe.
Her work »Take me to Jermany« illustrates what we as humans have in common. Her unique artistic representation depicts the vulnerable yet relatable side of humanity.