The migrant crisis in Europe is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern history. Millions have been displaced from their homes and scores have drowned trying to reach European countries as they flee violence in Syria and other warring nations. In 2015 alone, more than 300,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean seeking refuge.
All of which calls for a fashion shoot, right?
Amid this backdrop, one fashion photographer in Hungary thought it would be a good idea to do a photo shoot for a magazine inspired by the crisis. The spread, titled "Der Migrant," features a slender woman with her hair aflutter under a scarf. In one photo, her breasts peek out from under a shirt as a man grabs her and seems to drag her out of frame. In another photo, she looks up from her unbuttoned top, just covering just her nipples, and gazes into what looks like a case of cigarettes with the Chanel logo — maybe taking a selfie?
Needless to say, Twitter users didn't take kindly to the eroticization of a controversial theme.
Some users pointed out how tasteless the concept of the shoot was.
Norbert Baksa, the photographer who shot "Der Migrant," promoted the spread on his Twitter account on Monday. A day later, he further explained the concept behind the photos.
In response the online criticism, Baksa wrote that his intention wasn't to offend anyone.
On his personal website, Baksa further elaborated on the photo shoot, saying he hoped viewers would understand that information about the crisis is only partially true or biased:
"I do not understand how people can take a clear stand (pro or con) while we are flooded with contradictory information through the media, so no one has extensive knowledge of the situation as a whole. This is exactly what we wanted to picture: You see a suffering woman, who is also beautiful, and despite her situation, has some high quality pieces of outfit and an smartphone."
Baksa isn't wrong to point out that the "refugee" image is more complicated than people may realize. Some media outlets have questioned aloud just how persecuted or impoverished the refugees are if, say, they have smartphones on hand. Of course, as CBS News pointed out, smartphones themselves aren't tickets to freedom, nor must a refugee be poor or old to qualify.
The intent of the photo shoot was to "draw attention to the complexity" of the problem, Baksa writes.
"The shooting is not intended to glamourize this clearly bad situation, but rather, as said above, to draw the attention to the problem and make people think about it," he writes. "Artists around the world regularly attract the public's attention to current problems through 'shocking' installations and pictures. This is another example of such art."
Art may be art, but given the humanitarian and political turmoil surrounding the situation, it's unlikely that Baksa's framing will sit well with the general public. That's especially true considering how actual photos have powerfully shed light on the crisis, conveying to the rest of the world just how dire the situation is.
In making light of something so dire, "Der Migrant" arguably veers into an uncomfortably Derelicte-esque place. Fashion should always strive to reflect the real world — but when it comes to international headlines, not everything makes the easiest inspiration.