The Feds and me

Navid DSC_3937b shp 20-20 copy

Through the viewfinder I see flashing lights moving through the airport grounds, a plume of dust in its wake.I say to my subject, Navid, ‘I wonder if that’s for us?’

Navid’s sitting on a wooden fence on the boundary of Melbourne airport. He squints over his shoulder and shrugs. He’s from Afghanistan. He’s seen worse. He points to the sky – another plane is coming in to land – and settles back into his pose.

I click the shutter and moments later the vehicle – in the image you can see it approaching in the treeline – skids to a halt and a stocky security guard bundles out, halfway through a sentence, ‘What are you doing? They’re moments away from calling the feds!’

‘The feds?’ I say, incredulous, ‘What have we done? Are we on airport land?’

‘Well, technically you’re doing nothing wrong but someone has looked out a tower with a pair of binoculars and seen a black SUV and two guys setting up tripods under a flight path.’

I talk quickly, explaining that I’m taking photos for an exhibition at the Immigration Museum.

‘An exhibition?’ He stands a little taller, ‘What about?’

‘Asylum seekers,’ I say, watching to gauge his reaction. It’s a subject that splits opinion, and a few times during this project I’ve held my breath.

He stands with hands on hips, ‘I see.’

I tell him Navid’s story, about how he won Afghanistan’s version of Australian Idol in 2009 and became so popular that the Taliban saw him as a threat and shot him.

‘Wow!’

I tell him how Navid fled to Pakistan, but the Taliban tracked him down and he narrowly escaped by fleeing over rooftops.

‘Far out!’ He shakes his head, looking at Navid, then back to me.

Another plane roars overhead. ‘Well, hold on,’ he says, ‘I’ll shift the ute out of your way so you can get another shot.’

Freedom shows at the Immigration Museum until June 15, 2015.