Culture

A Kiss Knows No Borders: How One Photographer’s Image About the Refugee Crisis Went Viral

Just hours ago the European Union passed a controversial deal that forced member states to accept 120,000 refugees in a move that was highly contested by the governments of Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

Hungary in particular has been in the spotlight after the Hungarian government declined to allow refugees to board trains to Austria (and for this crazy camerawoman).

But of course not all Hungarians agreed with their government’s decisions and the Hungarian media’s viewpoint of the refugees.

Istvan Zsiros, a 30-year-old IT worker from the town of Aszód, which is 40km from Budapest, recently decided to become a photographer full time and wanted to see the situation of the 2,000- 3,000 refugees for himself.

“It is important to be open and curious to the world. Something told me to go. To see for myself, not through the media.”

It took him an hour by bus and a further 30-minute walk, but eventually he reached Keleti station in the centre of Budapest, where the refugees had set up camp near the capital’s main international train station.

Zsiros was only there for around half an hour, but the time was enough for him to shoot one of the more defining images of Europe’s refugee crisis, which highlights a young couple embraced in a kiss while surrounded by the chaotic scenes of the makeshift camp.

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The photographer Istvan Zsiros / Facebook

“I didn’t speak to them. I’m not a journalist, I wasn’t making a reportage. I do weddings, for friends and acquaintances. I rarely photograph in town; I prefer nature. But I try to catch moments. I saw this couple, and it was very touching – especially in those surroundings. So I took the shot.”
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“The colour image is too vibrant. Red and blue sleeping bags, bright-coloured clothes – it distracts you from the moment between the couple. In black and white, it is just one big, touching moment, without annoying things around it.”

The image first started to gain attention after Zsiros posted a monochrome version of the photo to a Facebook page that hosted a photography competition about the refugees. There, it was shared only around 50 times, as many questioned whether the image was posed or manipulated.

“Everyone needs love, and they can see it here, in this image.”

Two weeks later however, the photograph had a second wind as a Greek photographer and activist called Yannis Androulidakis reposted it on his Facebook.

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The caption in Greek reads: “The refugees will win. Love will win.”

It went viral shortly after, which Zpiros hopes will change the way many people see the refugee crisis. However, he understands that the topic is extremely divisive:

“I hope every refugee finds a their place in the world, finds peace as quickly as possible. That everyone is happy. It’s a very difficult situation, a very complex situation.”

Title image: “A kiss knows no borders” by Istvan Zsiros