• PhotoGenie

Return to Sender

In honour of World Refugee Day, which takes place on June 20th 2019, this week’s Photogenie theme is titled 'Free to Flee'.

Through visual stories, our curators research the question “How is the humanitarian refugee crisis being visualised?”.






In the project Retour Afzender made by Lou Muuse, every step in the asylum process is documented and visualised. Muuse began Retour Afzender as a photojournalism project in 2015. After registering as a volunteer worker for Dutch asylum centers, she was able to enter institutions and systems that are normally hidden from the public. She ended up not simply taking pictures, but researching the system of Dutch asylum procedures, documenting single steps through images and text published on a website. All of the text on the website is in Dutch. This is done in line with the actions of the Dutch government since they communicate with asylum seekers and refugees in the Dutch language, even though most of them don't actually speak it. Therefore, the conclusion can be made that these procedures serve the purpose of getting refugees out of the country again.


The year 2015, when she started her project, was the beginning of a period characterized by rising numbers of people arriving in the European Union from across the Mediterranean Sea or over land through Southeastern Europe. Inhabitants have different perspectives on their arrival. However, no matter the opinions, the project of Lou Muuse is valuable for everyone who wants to understand what processes refugees have to go through when entering the Netherlands. Retour Afzender is a form of research where visuals are neither simply illustrations nor visualizations of textual data, but where photographic images are the medium of critical investigation.


‘The conclusion was simple: these procedures serve the purpose of getting refugees out of the country again.’






With the photos Muuse wants to present the locations where refugees temporarily stay during the asylum process. This is done by shooting the interiors of the locations, trying not to show any people in these pictures, in order for the viewer to identify more easily with the places. Besides the use of photography, the project consists of illustrations, maps, text and infographics. The illustrations visualise the steps in the asylum procedure and on the website, each step is a different location in the system marked on a map.


About the artist: Lou Muuse (Haarlem, 1992) is a photographer and an interactive storyteller from the Netherlands. Her subjects of interest are presented in responses to urgent debates in society. With a journalistic approach Lou visualises her anthropological observations, and tries to create new perspectives to pull the viewer beyond their prejudice.


Check out Lou Muuse’s full body of work at https://loumuuse.com/Retour-Afzender and @loumuuse at instagram. The project Retour/Afzender is now also published in a bilingual book.


Let us know what you think in the comments!


Our weekly themes always include three photo series by different photographers. Are you interested and do you want to stay posted?

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Written by Noura Oul Fakir

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