Belfast Photo Festival:
Alisa Martynova

In 2020, more than 11 million migrants from African countries – such as Nigeria, The Gambia, Rwanda, Congo and Senegal – were living in Europe, according to the IOM’s 2024 World Migration Report. The UN organisation also published a report estimating that, between January and September 2023, 190,000 people arrived undocumented after making the perilous and often life-threatening journey across the two continents. However, statistics do not give us the full picture. Each unit represents someone with a life story that is the completely unique nexus point of their personal experiences, perspectives and dreams.

One such person is Mahamadou. Documentary photographer Alisa Martynova introduces us to him in the Nowhere Near (2023) series. Here, Mahamadou stands framed by trees in the verdant forest setting, looking back at us from the centre of the composition. The accompanying description tells us that he is of Senegalese-Gambian descent and fled to Florence, Italy, after taking part in a university demonstration. There’s also Roena, a Gabonese international student living in the same Mediterranean country. We meet the young woman sitting peacefully in her room and posing for the camera with eyes closed, head tilted and shoulders raised. A soft red light accentuates her features and gives the portrait a pop of vibrance.

Nowhere Near (2023) is a project that started with the aim of shining a light on the stories of Africans living in Italy. Martynova’s photography resists enforcing harmful stereotypes by showing that every individual has a different and important tale to tell. The documentarian compares her subjects to scattered stars in a constellation of other young adults with different backgrounds, identities and personalities. In an interview with Lucia De Stefani from PH Museum, she states: “In the choral testimony of the voices I collected, the celestial constellation is one of young Africans from different countries, of different genders and with different traits, a testament to the individuality and diversity that they each embody.”

Alisa Martynova (b. 1994) is the winner of the Aesthetica Editorial Award, selected from the stellar entries shortlisted as part of the 2024 Belfast Photo Festival Open Submission. Her work focuses on important topics, such as migration and new technologies, as well as time-honoured, universal themes like change, dreams, space and time. The Florence-based photographer avoids direct documentation and instead uses the camera as a tool for creating parallel worlds that translate reality – lived experiences and meticulous research – into the language of symbols. The image-maker has received international recognition for her work, through awards such as the World Press Photo in Portrait Series (2021), LensCulture Emerging Talent Prize (2023) and Royal Photographic Society Documentary Photography Award (2023).

Belfast Photo Festival | 6 – 30 June

Image Credits:

  1. All images from Alisa Martynova, Nowhere Near, (2023).