This small and simply designed publication features work by the French/Moroccan photographer Yto Barrada, a member of the Autograph agency. A Life Full of Holes, a project involving photographs, film, text and installation, explores the unique character of The Strait of Gibraltar, the main route for illegal immigration from Africa into Europe, using Barrada’s native city of Tangiers as the focal point. Issues such as migration and diaspora, access and exclusion are touched on in these photographs, which have gained her a place on the 2006 Deutsche Borse Prize shortlist.
Barrada’s style is documentary but at its most artful, capturing the atmosphere of this transitory place in oblique images. Mostly square format and colour, her lyrical pictures are simply reproduced with small captions on individual pages. At the back of the book two short texts, reproduced in both French and English, one by Barrada and one featuring the artist in conversation with a philosopher, explore the issues raised by the project.
Many of the faces and identities of her subjects are hidden, their backs turned towards us – as if they are moving away, drawn towards the promise of a better life by the water of the Strait. Ennui and frustration are portrayed in pictures such as “Man Sitting – Boulevard Mohamed V. – Casablanca, 2001” in which a youth sits waiting, his face a blank gaze, his back to the closed metal shuttering of a shop – he appears to be shut out and going nowhere. She is fond of such visual metaphors. In another, two boys exit a football field through a hole in a fence, echoing the more direct image of escape depicted in “Illegally crossing the border into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, 1999”. Barrada also documents the city itself in transition, a limbo of vacant lots, dereliction and half-finished development. “Foundations – Abandoned construction site – Asilah, 2003” is a clever landscape composition of rusting steel pilons that follow the edge of a waterway like reeds. Another surreal amalgam “Vacant Lot – Tangiers, 2001” depicts a pastoral scene – a sheep-strewn field, with animals dozing in the sun – overlooked by a rock face of raw unfinished wall from a housing development.
In her intriguing, dreamlike compositions, Barrada has successfully captured the strange mix of tension and lethargy in this peripheral location. In one of her texts she asserts that “A Life full of Holes” is full of unresolved violence and that “there is no pleasure in these images”. However, this cannot be interpreted literally. There is a sense of the unresolved in her compositions of the half finished and partially hidden, but these images are still too beautifully composed and reproduced for one not to take pleasure in them. This is no urgent manifesto, more a gentle meditation on the nature of migration and transition, its pace suiting the subject of her exploration.