The Borders Issue

The Story Behind the Poignant Cover of VICE Magazine's June Issue

We spoke to Elliot Ross about his arresting photo of the clothes of asylum seekers hanging out to dry in a transit camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

by Elliot Ross
13 June 2016, 4:00am

This article appeared in the June issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

Though based in New York City, Elliot Ross travels a lot and focuses most of his work on the interpersonal, cultural, and economic hardships of human beings in geographic isolation. His photos have been published by National Geographic, the Guardian, Refinery29, and the Atlantic.

VICE: Tell us the backstory of the cover image.
Elliot Ross: Moria, a transit camp and registration point for asylum seekers arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos, sits on a steep hill. At its center is a fortified complex of administration and medical buildings, ringed by high fences topped with razor wire. After EU authorities discovered one of the Paris attackers registered there, they designated Moria a hot spot and closed it to journalists. While on Lesbos, I was able to sneak in, and I saw these clothes hanging out to dry on the fence. This simple thing struck me–it was a poignant reminder of normal life, even in this alien landscape of fences and borders.

While photographing the camps, did you meet any refugees whose stories stuck out to you?
On one of my first days in Greece, at a camp called Eleonas in Athens, I watched a kid playing with a soccer ball across the commons. His name was Fishel, and he explained that when he was 16, he set off alone from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. It took him a year to travel the seven thousand miles to Athens, all for one dream, to play soccer for Real Madrid. Most likely he'll be deemed an economic migrant and deported to Kinshasa.

What projects are you working on now?
I'm currently spending time camping in California's Slab City, in the Sonoran Desert, making portraits of those who choose to live off the grid.

Elliot Ross jots down notes about his photos in a daily process journal.

Polaroids dry inside Ross's mobile portrait studio.

This article appeared in the June issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.