This emotional series of portraits was selected as a finalist in th eLensCulture Portrait Awards 2016. Discover more inspiring work from all 39 of the winners and finalists.

In 2015, more than one million people arrived in Europe having fled from wars and conflicts in the Middle East.
More than half of these million landed on the shores of Lesvos, a small Greek island, after putting their lives at risk to cross the Aegean Sea. About 3,700 people did not succeed and drowned beneath the waves…

My work takes a critical view of social issues in relation to human rights violations. But aesthetically, I try to stay away from a purely journalistic stance. I want to know and show the people, those who are suffering in their own skin.

The series On The Shore seeks precisely this personal encounter with those who have suffered the terrible experience of war. The portraits were made close to the village of Eftalou, on the northern coast of Lesvos, last August/September 2015. The migrants had only just landed when I made the photos. They were still wet and disconcerted on the shore after the two-hour trip taken on an inflatable boat, crossing the 10 km that separate the Turkish and Greek coasts.

Waiting on the shore, I saw hundreds of journalists and photographers who immediately jumped on the refugees. Meanwhile, I waited. When I saw the right moment, I approached, trying to capture the gestures of these people as they talked to me about themselves and their pasts.

I always liked the idea of a portrait that does not speak of the present. As the starlight that comes with delay, sometimes what we see in a portrait tells us about the past.

In On The Shore, I look for what these people left behind. I think their eyes were united by the same beat. I saw the confused expressions of those who are still shaking the scars left on their skin, without being able to see yet what the future holds. This shore became border. It is a horizon crushed between two skies.

The Mediterranean Sea was for centuries a meeting point of different cultures, but now it is a barrier, an insurmountable wall for the many more who lost their breath to it.

—Fernando Del Berro