Journal Article

Visualizing the Experience of Flight: Photojournalistic Portraits and Refugee Migration


Maria Nilsson


This paper explores how photojournalism addresses refugee migration in Sweden, a country currently receiving a large influx of asylum seekers, in particular during a surge in global migration in 2015. Theoretically informed by literature calling for a compassionate visual storytelling focusing on the experience of refugees, the specific focus is on entries in the Swedish Picture of the Year contest. Images of children were particularly prominent among contest entries focusing on forced migration in the examined years, presenting an opportunity to further explore visual representation while also considering portraiture as a photojournalistic genre and visual strategy. A close reading drawing on semiotics and compositional analysis was conducted on images and written contest jury motivations. Findings showed a humanitarian aesthetic, formality as a storytelling tool, and an unresolved tension between showing and shielding young victims of trauma.

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About the Author

Maria Nilsson

Associate Professor and Director of Studies for Journalism with an international research and teaching background and previous journalism experience. B. Sc in Social Work from Stockholm University, Ph. D. (Media and Communication Studies), M. F. ... Read more


Nilsson, M. (2020). Visualizing the Experience of Flight: Photojournalistic Portraits and Refugee Migration. Novos Olhares, 9(1), pp. 130-141. Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2022]. doi: