Amy Romer – The Dark Figure*
WORDS BY OLIVE OBEROI
A phrase dripping with malice: The Dark Figure*. Not only the title of this book, but a term profusely repeated throughout, referring to the estimated thirteen thousand current victims of modern slavery in the UK. British photographer, Amy Romer, uncovers the brutal realities of modern slavery, capturing the isolation and oppression these victims have endured through her subtle yet powerful images.
Romer presents images of houses, street corners, cul-de-sacs and gates. “The photograph is on the street where the victim(s) were found, but not of the building they were found in.” An image of a faded canary-yellow Volkswagen Beetle, is illustrated with a narrative on the facing page; A story unfolds of how a 22-year-old Hungarian woman moves to London, under the pretence of working as a babysitter. Arriving in Budapest to begin her venture, she was captured by three men who extracted her belongings from her, and proceeded to transport her to Manchester. She was then sold to a Pakistani man for a mere £3,500 as a marriage bond. Eventually she was relocated in Lancashire, where she made her escape and alerted the police.
The houses shown in each photograph are objectively banal, mundane and ultimately, overlooked by the standard pedestrian. The buildings at first glance are inconspicuous and modest. “There’s nothing unusual about the places depicted in these photographs, and that’s the very point.” There are distinct objects in some images – cars, gates and trees behaving as blocking mechanisms, creating a barrier between viewer and house, leaving an impression of inaccessibility, paralleling the subject matter.
A muted array of colours retracts any glamorisation to the subject matter. These images solely serving to document and expose. All photographs focus on buildings and exteriors, perhaps a less personal approach, yet the sentiment Romer sought to portray was exposure and to certain extent imagination. “What I wanted to achieve was the idea that slavery is on our doorstep… The images must lure you in enough to want to read about them”.
Modern Slavery is a subliminal taboo in contemporary society. Slavery is what we impulsively think of as something of the past. The actuality being, there are over forty million people around the world, in modern slavery. The Dark Figure* unveils the exploitation of human trafficking in one of the richest countries in the world, opening our eyes to the very real and present tragedy that could be a few feet away. Romer’s investigations and use of photography have led to the Police and Home Office to use her information as a training technique for Police and Council staff on spotting signs of slavery. As she says, “By being aware of its existence, these stories are at least able to step forward, out of the shadows of The Dark Figure*.”
The Dark Figure* is published by Another Place Press and is available to order here.