Photojournalist Finds Photo Stolen and Repurposed to Support Anti-Immigrant Group

©Roberto Neumiller (Used with permission.)

Roberto Neumiller is one angry photographer. A well-respected photojournalist based in Paris, Neumiller went to the African Sahel in 2006 where he photographed the daily lives of workers in the region. When the images were originally published they were widely praised.

Recently, however, Neumiller discovered that one of the photos (above), which shows an overstuffed truckload of laborers, had been getting a lot of use and all without his permission. Neumiller, frustrated and angry, wrote a letter to the online photo site “L'œil de la photographie” complaining about the misappropriation of his image.

“I’m tired of having this photo stolen by groups claiming that France and Belgium should be reserved for the ‘real French’ and ‘real Belgians,’” Neumiller wrote. “Not only do they play fast and loose with the concept of ownership, they’ll say anything to get their way. It doesn't matter whether or not it’s the truth. Take this photo I shot in Nigeria of people ‘carpooling.’ They’ve used it as a representation of the hordes of ‘invaders’ coming to pillage France. So now I’m asking myself: how do I get them to take it down?”

Taking down these images isn’t going to be easy. One of the cases Neumiller cites is the use of the photo by the powerful right wing political party, the Swiss Democratic Union of the Centre (UDC).

They used his image in an anti-immigrant pamphlet that was distributed to every household in the Swiss district of Conthey. In an interview, a UDC representative tried to explain away the illegal usage:

“We need strong images to raise awareness, not just text! This photo shows the situation well, the Africans crossing the Sahel to pick a fortune in Europe. We found this photo on the Internet and we’ve the right to use it.”

The photo, however, has nothing to do with African migrants going to Europe. As Neumiller wrote to the L’œil:

“In sub-Saharan Africa, they call these kinds of trucks ‘ten-wheels’ or ‘cathedral trucks.’ Nearly 200 workers are perched atop this one. They are returning home to Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali and elsewhere. They were all coming from Libya (back when Gaddafi was still in power), where they worked jobs that Libyans didn’t want to do themselves.”

Neumiller was never asked permission for this use and, in fact, only learned about it after seeing a TV news program that reported on the UDC campaign.

“What the UDC did there, it's just the flight, a practice of thugs I have not received any requests from them to be used in a political tract,” he said. “And, if they had I would not have allowed the use of this image to the extent that I do not share his ideas at all. And this is the most famous picture I have taken during my thirty-five years of career.

"What bothers me, too, is the sense that the UDC gives it is the opposite of reality! Here it is not people who flee Africa to come to Europe, but, instead, migrant workers returning home and traveling from north to south!”

Despite contacting the UDC and the various bloggers that have misused his photograph and demanding that they take down the image, it is still in use.

Neumiller also told me, by phone, that the worst theft and reusage of the image that caused him the most anguish was the following: “A few years ago a right wing group had used this photo with the caption ‘The Obama family arrives at the White House."