Katja Tähjä: Undocumented Lives

“People are ultimately motivated by very similar things. We each want security, meaningful work, to be able to put bread on the table, and education and a chance of a good life for our children. It’s nothing more out of the ordinary than that. If the only option for getting somewhere involves risking one’s life, that option is exercised – after all, it represents an opportunity where other opportunities do not exist.”

Katja Tähjä

Katja Tähjä’s Undocumented Lives series tells about the lives of undocumented migrants across Europe. One of the greatest fears of undocumented migrants is to be caught and deported, sent back to their homeland. The series Deported captures the situations in which deportees find themselves. The first-person narratives and photographs taken on the subjects’ own terms portray circumstances in which one must stay silent and invisible for fear of punishment or deportation. The portrayals do not reveal individuals’ identities, and many are given pseudonyms.

Tähjä explains: “The reasons people are forced to live in hiding in Europe vary. One ends up paperless when her residence permit expires, another because of not being granted a residence permit or asylum to begin with. A visa obtained on the basis of family reunification can be terminated if the marriage ends in divorce, a student visa depends on earning enough study credits, and a work visa requires still holding the job. Also, many situations lie somewhere between direct forms of human trafficking and entry that complies with the terms and conditions: promises of a job and housing in Europe may lead to a reality of arrangements that leave the newcomer without a residence permit. Such people find themselves cast as outlaws, on the margins of society. They often learn of the illegality of their presence only after arriving in Europe.”

Katja Tähjä has collaborated in photojournalistic projects with journalist Kaisa Viitanen.


PVF 2016
The Finnish Museum of Photography