Jeff Mitchell is a professional photographer.
Like most creative people, he wants his work to make a difference.
That’s why he wanted to record the experience for refugees coming from Syria and Turkey.
How they would be moved by train from Croatia across Slovenia.
Then they’d be moved across Slovenia to Austria.
There they’d wait without heat or much food, thousands upon thousands.
They’d be marched in a seemingly endless line across fields and along disused railway lines.
Jeff Mitchell wanted to take one definitive photograph.
A single shot that would capture the misery and despair.
He decided to use a telephoto lens to flatten off the perspective, to get as much of the line of refugees in as possible,
The long lens would compress more of the image into the area.
Then he picked a place where the line curved, to get even more of it into the shot.
And, in order to get back far enough for the lens, he chose to set up on a bridge overlooking the trail of refugees.
Eventually he got the picture he wanted: bleak empty faces trudging across fields.
No hope in sight, no end in sight.
He thought the photograph was one of his best.
Now people would know the truth of the refugees’ situation.
Months later, on another assignment, another photographer told Jeff they’d seen his picture.
They said it was great, and Jeff was very pleased.
But then they asked him if he knew where it had run.
He said he didn’t, why?
It turned out that one of the photographic agencies had sold his photo to a client Jeff had never imagined.
They sold it to UKIP.
UKIP used it for their 48 sheet poster campaign.
A picture of the poster ran in every newspaper, with Nigel Farage posing in front of it.
There was Jeff’s picture of the crowd of refugees with the headline: BREAKING POINT.
Underneath in large letters, was the caption: “The EU has failed us”.
Below that the line “We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders”.
So Jeff Mitchell’s image, which he’d intended to generate sympathy for the plight of the refugees, was used in exactly the opposite way.
It had been used as warning about the danger of refugees.
By adding a few words, it now said something completely different to what Jeff intended.
The picture didn’t evoke sympathy, the picture evoked fear.
Jeff was heartbroken, but what could he do?
He said it happens all the time.
The photographic agencies sell the pictures, they never ask what they’ll be used for.
Newspapers use the pictures to make a point according to their political slant.
The photographer’s original intention isn’t even considered.
By adding a few words, Jeff’s intention was changed 180 degrees.
His picture had changed the situation all right.
Just not in the way he intended.