Enri Canaj – Say Goodbye Before You Leave

A new photo book by Enri Canaj – Say Goodbye Before You Leave

The Say Goodbye Before You Leave series placed the Magnum photographer on the shortlist for the LOBA 2021. Dealing with the hardships faced by migrants, as they followed routes through Europe, this touching work now appears as a book.

Canaj has been working on this project for eight years. The theme of migration, however, has accompanied him for a much longer part of his life. When he was eleven years old, he and his family moved from Albania to Greece; and he has been capturing pictures of migrant movements ever since. As a professional photographer, he works to provide the people behind the numbers and statistics with human faces. His black and white photographs convey the stirring stories of their fates, while documenting the historical reality of the 21st century. The photos were taken on three continents – in 13 countries and at 25 locations. Canaj travelled a lot, accompanying migrants on their dangerous routes, and capturing with his camera the moments when they arrived at their new destinations, full of hope. “Following the Arab Spring, this project started when I was documenting the very first boats carrying migrants to EU waters,” Canaj remembers. “And the last episode covers the tragic fire in the Moria Refugee Reception Centre in Lesbos. It combines images of migration throughout various stages: showing people’s arrivals; the first years of the ones who made it to their destinations; and the situations of those who are still waiting on the other side.”

“For me, this is the important part of my work – to share people’s emotions and stories; not only the tough circumstances and the misery of the inhuman conditions.”

The very first image in the book forces the reader to confront the traumatic reality and the dangers faced by migrants: people struggle to bring themselves out of the sea to safety, after reaching the coast of the Greek island of Lesbos by boat. Even through the last metres, they have to battle against the deadly waters, till their feet can find firm footing.

Two major chapters are intertwined in this book: En Route and Arrivals speak of the harsh conditions that have to be survived on the migration routes; and of the hopeful, yet often difficult, arrivals in Greece, Italy, Belgium, Germany, France, Sweden, Serbia or Turkey. Canaj and his camera are always close to the people, capturing haunting pictures that convey their fears and longings. His deeply humanistic approach is reflected in the photographs. With great respect and poignant honesty, he reports on situations that are mostly overlooked or suppressed. This reveals that Canaj’s work is both deeply personal and extremely political: after all, even in the future, there will never be a lack of reasons to leave one’s homeland.

The title for the book emerged while he was working: “While photographing the Covid-19 situation in Moria, I met six-year-old Masha and her family from Afghanistan,” Canaj recalls. “Masha was a child full of life and curiosity, with many friends from all over the camp. The only joy she felt, during the time there, was when she visited her friends and their families in their tents. The day before my departure, her words to me will remain always in my memory, as a bittersweet feeling: ‘Come and say goodbye before you leave.’” Consequently, Canaj has dedicated his book to “all those kids who embark on a journey, without knowing.”

Enri Canaj

Born in Tirana, Albania, in 1980, Canaj migrated to Greece with his family in 1991. He studied Photography at the Leica Akademie in Athens; took part in a migration project, run by the British Council, in 2007; and attended a one-year workshop with the Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos. He has been working, since 2008, as a freelance photographer for important magazines: such as Time LightBox, CNN Photo, New York Magazine, MSNBC Photography, Wall Street Journal, Courrier international, VICE Magazine, The Financial Times, Newsweek, Paris Match, and Le Monde diplomatique. His work has been exhibited and honoured on numerous occasions. In 2021, he was on the shortlist for the LOBA. Canaj has been a member of the Magnum Photos Agency, since 2019. He lives in Athens.

Say Goodbye Before You Leave, with text by Enri Canaj and Nadina Christopoulou. 190 pages, 86 black and white pictures, 21.5 × 32 cm. Self-published in English; available on his website.