The ad that shows a migrant’s plight through Instagram posts

The campaign, which many thought was genuine, is for photography festival Getxophoto It aims to focus attention on “journeys that the traveler never wanted to take”

Spot de Getxo Photo imaginando el viaje de un inmigrante contado con hashtags populares de Instagram

Abdou Diouf has used popular social networking site Instagram to chart his voyage from Senegal to Spain, with photos that show him crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, fleeing from the police and arriving on a Spanish beach, where he is covered with a thermal blanket. Or has he?

The images began to spread like wildfire across the internet on Monday, after the UK edition of the Huffington Post featured them in an article, albeit with a caveat that the young man’s story could not be verified.

Verne got in touch with Diouf, who agreed to answer questions via email – but a lot of his story didn't add up. For example, would someone really take a selfie while being held by a police officer? What’s more, he was using a number of hashtags that are commonly seen on Instagram, such as #instagood, #travelgram and even #justdoit. One of the hashtags was particularly interesting: #getxophoto.

Getxophoto is a photography festival that will be opening its next edition on September 3. Their webpage and their Facebook page feature the following video, which is presented as an advertisement for the event:

By using the typical hashtags posted by tourists when sharing their vacation photos, the creators of the ad wanted to play with the “Western, decontextualized attitude” in which hashtags are juxtaposed “with the image we see,” explains via telephone Oriol Caba, a producer from the Volga y Manson studios, who created the ad. The aim was to “denounce the Western frivolity” of taking selfies all the time, and the attitude of “if I haven't shared it, it didn't happen.”

While Getxophoto had their doubts about the subject when Volga suggested it, given that it is somewhat delicate, they were very happy with the final result, explains Joana E. Sendra, who is in charge of communication for the event. “It prompts the viewer to reflect,” and draws our attention to the theme of this year’s festival, which is about journeys – including those the traveler never wanted to take. The use of the hashtags in an ironic way “is what has really created an impact,” she continues. As for not letting anyone know that the account was not real, Sendra states that they wanted to avoid “trivializing” the issue, as well as “expressing the fact that this journey could be taken by anyone.”

In fact, a lot of media coverage of the story focused on the format by which it was told, when the journey itself is “nothing out of the ordinary,” Caba points out, “given that it is repeated day after day.” Many media outlets tried to get in contact with Diouf, Caba explains, adding that she was surprised with their “impatience to be the first to publish a story about it.”

The video was filmed in Catalonia using the cellphone of its director, Tomás Peña, and features three non-professional actors. Peña was also the person who responded to our emails, pretending to write in very limited English via a cellphone. “We could have taken it further,” he adds, “and worked more on the character to create interest.” But the ultimate intention was to draw attention to a very complicated subject. “It could have been a bit cruel and delicate,” he concludes.

But Peña also argues that this ad is in part “science fiction,” given that in a “near future” we will most likely see “this type of photo in real time, just as right now we are likely to take a photo of a hamburger.”

This is not the first time that a fictional video that’s presented as real has been used to draw attention to a tragic situation. In November 2014, the Norwegian director Lars Klevberg made a fake video of a child rescuing a little girl during a firefight in Syria. The video was shot in Malta with the aim of generating debate about the situation of children in conflict zones. Klevberg later explained that his aim was to post it on the internet without revealing that it was fictitious.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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