09 May 2023

Agathe Kalfas and Mathias Benguigui Discuss The Value of Showcasing at PhMuseum Days

09 May 2023 - Written by PhMuseum

Discovered through last year's festival open call, their project Asphodel Songs explores the traces left in the landscape of Lesbos to gain a deeper understanding of migration and distinctly portray the phenomenon. The exhibition boosted the distribution of their project and facilitated a bond with other photographers.

Installation shot from Asphodel Songs during PhMuseum Days 2022 © Kalfas & Benguigui / PhMuseum

Ciao Agathe & Mathias, can you tell us more on your long-term analysis, the process of researching and the text-image relationship?

Having both worked inside the French media, we realised how difficult it was to see the migration crisis and the spaces of migration treated otherwise than through the pure prism of the news. From this, we felt that there was a gaping hole in the imaginary that was developed to represent these situations, that we needed to engage in a longer and more complex time to bring complementary ways of echoing migration. 

The main question of our research, both in the images and in the texts, was how to approach the complex history of this island. How is it possible to talk about current events and migration issues outside the main representation? With this in mind, we asked ourselves questions about the representation of exiled populations in words and images and how this can profoundly modify the perception of a territory and the identity of its inhabitants. We decided to work on the whole project as an additional part of the diversity of points of view on a territory that is already so much treated. 

It was important for us to be able to bring understanding to the migratory crisis without having to represent an asylum seeker in situations of indignity when he is already in a vulnerable position due to his status. So we proposed to the protagonists of our story to become participants in the project, where he could reflect with us the way to be represented and where on the island.

from Asphodel Songs © Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui
Installation shots from Asphodel Songs during PhMuseum Days 2022 © Kalfas & Benguigui / PhMuseum

How you played at the border of documentary and fiction? Which roles have mythology and migration’s collective memory to tell a story from a very different point of view?  

Migration movements are accelerating and are now a major issue in our changing societies. The mainstream media treatment does not allow for a full understanding of the issues raised, nor does it allow for an emotional connection with the humans who are hidden behind the numbers. The use of fiction and myth responds to this problem and allows us to offer a more universal message.

Is the possibility of showcasing your work already affecting you while still in the process of producing work? If yes, how?

Indeed, the first time we presented this work to an audience it was not yet finished and we had a year of production left. This reinforced our position on the particular treatment of the island of Lesbos and its different inhabitants. For us, the challenge was to allow the public to be interested again in stories of migration, to be an actor in this story by bringing them to ask themselves questions about what they could read and see.

How significant has been showcasing your work at PhMuseum Days?

This exhibition, of high quality and among a talented panel of photographers, came at an important moment in the distribution of the project. It allowed us to present our book in Italy and to meet other potential partners to distribute the exhibition internationally.   

from Asphodel Songs © Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui
Installation shot from Asphodel Songs during PhMuseum Days 2022 © Kalfas & Benguigui / PhMuseum

How was to work with the PhMuseum team and enjoy the opening weekend in Bologna?

It was extremely interesting to work with the curatorial team remotely because we felt confident that they could handle our project and propose original installations. As the exchanges progressed, they remained attentive to our desires and our vision of the Chants de l'Asphodèle exhibitions. A magnificent reinterpretation of our expectations and the atmosphere we wanted! We were welcomed in an incredible setting, where we had quality time to exchange with the other photographers exhibited and the professionals present for the portfolio readings, as well as the photo book editors. We particularly appreciated the official welcome from the city's cultural department and the proposed visit to the premises. 

When it comes to preparing a submission, do you have any advice for the new applicants to the PhMuseum Days Open Call?

Get to the point, step outside the box and dare to imagine new forms of display for your work. The PhMuseum team loves to take on curatorial challenges, so don't hesitate! 

from Asphodel Songs © Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui

Asphodel Songs by Agathe Kalfas & Mathias Benguigui was selected through the festival's open call, learn from her experience and consider participating to have the chance of joining us in Bologna. You have time until 11 May to submit your work.

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