It was during a regular nighttime patrol off the coast of Chios in 2014 that the officers on board the port authority vessel spotted a rubber dinghy crammed with migrants and asylum seekers just as dawn was beginning to break.
Fearing arrest, the migrants tried to escape, ending up on a small islet off Oinousses, disoriented and confused about where they were. “They formed a long line as they came down a hill they had scrambled to the top of. They had been located by soldiers posted on the islet. I hung back as they reached the coast and that is when I saw the woman with the baby in her arms staring out into the void, somewhere out at sea, and the look in her eyes just floored me,” says photographer Enri Canaj of that mission, which he had undertaken for a story for Kathimerini.
The photojournalist, a close associate of the newspaper, was recently invited to join the family of top photo agency Magnum as a nominee, presenting the work he has done on the refugee crisis.
“I’m not interested in raw footage,” stresses Canaj. “I wanted to show their tragic situation in a way that was transcendental but didn’t gloss over it.”
Magnum is a cooperative founded in Paris in 1947 by a group of the world’s foremost photographers, among them Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and David Seymour. Members of the agency, which turns 70 this year, have captured some of the most important moments in the world’s history and it continues to send its photographers to the front lines of developments.
Canaj, along with Emin Ozmen from Turkey and half-Belgian, half-Spanish Cristina de Middel, are the three Magnum nominees announced at the agency’s annual general meeting in New York.
Albania-born Canaj came to Greece at the age of 11 and studied photography at the Leica Academy. In 2007 he took part in a British Council project on migration, attending a year-long workshop with Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos. He has since been working in the Balkans, mainly Kosovo and Albania, as well as Greece, focusing on migration and the recent crisis, and has received numerous distinctions for his work, as well as working with leading international publications.
Canaj was recently awarded a scholarship from the Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation For Documentary Photography & Film and is currently showing his work as part of the scholarship at Les Rencontres d’Arles in France, one of the world’s leading photography festivals.