Secret Rooms is a project about immigrant Chinese workers living in the city of Prato (Italy) nearby Florence. The photographs show the bedrooms situated in illegal clothing factories where the cheap labourers live. The distance between their bed and the machine where they work is usually less than ten meters. The living conditions are inhumane and the only chance to photograph places like this is during police raids, because it is the only time the factory managers are not there to prevent it.

These images have been taken immediately after the police had entered and the workers had been gathered together in the main room of the factories. Raids usually occur early in the morning when the workers are sleeping. The Italian police are rough on them, viewing them as illegal workers who in their opinion are one of the causes of the economic crisis that is strongly felt in the city.

The Chinese immigrant workers are victims of this situation in two ways. First, they are victims of the Chinese mafia that displaces and uses them for their business. Second, they are victims of a system that perceives their presence exclusively as a threat. The workers with a residence permit are free to leave the factories, but they don’t have any other place to go. Most probably, they will end up calling another job announcement written on the walls of the city. As fast as the following day, they could have found a place in another factory in the same city.

The Chinese workers are only viewed in economic terms. The immigrants are dehumanized and publicly seen as merely a destructive labour force with no identity. The ones benefitting from the slave-like conditions know that the less this issue is told and the more it is misunderstood, the better it is for their business.

 

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Photo of the installation of Secret Rooms, during the exhibition “New Nordic Photography”. Hasselblad center. Gothenburg 2012