SCHICKSAL is a journey about journeys. Directly translated this German word can mean: fate, destiny, luck and even doom. All things which potentially belong to our life path. Whilst fate can have negative connotations and destiny more spiritual connotations - life path solidly anchors these meanings and is what this body of work is about.

SCHICKSAL depicts, in abstract form and written text, the stories of a dozen people who have for very different reasons left their country of origin and made Germany their home. Stories of past and present combine - revealing inner and outer feelings which affect our identity.

As a young woman with two children under three years old, I relocated with my German husband to Hamburg in northern Germany. During the years spent looking after young children and trying to assimilate into life in a new country I felt desperately misunderstood and lonely for a long time. This feeling of being ‘other’ accentuated and glorified what I had left behind with my choice to move to another country.

Thirty years later I have long since found my place in society. However, the initial feelings and impressions have had a lasting impact on me and my relationship to what is now my adopted home country. This made me question how other people feel about their loss of home, closeness to loved ones and cultural identity. People with different backgrounds/ reasons for immigrating, different physical attributes and personal orientation. How do their stories and what they have left behind allow them to integrate into German society. Many of the participants in this work have left their home countries under dire and terrifying situations. Others have left for love or for job opportunities. These individual stories plus the experiences in the new country lie at the core of this body of work. What bonds us all is the common feeling of having lost something, given something up. Even if the general daily life is safer or better - something has been given up to attain this. Something that lies very close to the inner authentic self.



SCHICKSAL Review by Helen Criales
Artist, Curator and Educator, Washington DC, 2022

Schicksal, a photo-series by Elaine Jeffrey guides the viewer through twelve collaborators' unique “life paths”, journeys in which fate, destiny, luck, and even doom may have taken place to lead them to Germany. Jeffrey approaches human emotion through an abstract lens and conveys each of the collaborator’s stories associated with migration, relationships, and freedom, elements that ultimately define their identity. In the process Jeffrey redefines the traditional practice of portraiture, and the relationship between artist and subject.

The series is mainly composed of abstract portraits, and in its entirety the exhibition is a combination of an assemblage, a diptych, and large single photographs. Collaborators’ presence and expression of their life path is interpreted by the use of color and a black ink-like opaqueness, giving the portraits emotional and visual weight. The visual strategy of eliminating depth of field blurs and merges timelines into flattened pictorial spaces, this anchors the portraits into the present moment.

Looking deeper into Schicksal from a social and political perspective, Jeffrey challenges traditional portraiture and the role of artist and subject. In the series, the artist and subjects shift from passive to active roles; the artist becomes an ally and the subjects become co-authors. This shift is drastically different from the typical relationship of artist (sole creator) and subject (as sitter), especially in portrait photography that is deeply embedded in identity politics and the power an artist possesses to represent the subject's identity with or without accuracy via a series of decisions in the image making process. We could consider that in Schicksal the use of abstraction works as a safety mechanism as it allows the collaborators to navigate themes associated with traumatic experiences without the face to face scrutiny of the viewer, and that abstraction can serve as a safe space for expression. Thus the exclusion of purely representational portraits places importance on the collaborative process rather than focusing solely on the precision of the representational. Throughout the series collaborators are given agency supporting the concept of Schicksal in that they are in control of their identities and life paths.



Professor David Kinloch
University of Strathclyde, UK

This is the second part of a joint project that brings together the Bangladeshi journalist and activist, Shammi Haque and Scottish artist, Elaine Jeffrey. Stimulated by a series of conversations focusing on Haque’s experience of political exile, Jeffrey’s luminous and compelling photographs respond to Haque’s feelings of anger, guilt and confusion as well as her more positive desire to make a difference in her newfound home.

Jeffrey’s approach is not straightforwardly documentary. Indeed, initially, there may seem something paradoxical about applying abstract aesthetic techniques to material so deeply embedded in social experiences of exile, migration and the trauma that ensues. What is gained by blurring outlines, by eschewing the direct, documentary gaze? The answer lies, perhaps, in the term ‘trauma’. It’s a word that has become banal by overuse. Etymologically, it comes from the Greek for ‘wound’. And wounds can only really be fully experienced by the recipient. For the public to approach an experience of ‘wounding’ they must come at it from an angle. Light must be shed. Literally, in the case of photography. Rather than ‘abstract’, perhaps the term that best captures Jeffrey’s take on this subject matter might be ‘hybrid’. The great challenge this kind of work faces, then, is how to balance representation and abstraction. Or perhaps not to ‘balance’ but to use one to provoke and sometimes contextualise the other. The presence of portraiture, the reminder of what portraiture conventionally does, undercuts any tendency the viewer may experience to drift off on a wave of personal introspection or fantasy that might be induced by focusing too exclusively on the abstract components. And the abstract dissolution of clear representational images in turn allows the unknowability of the subject to be present, critiques and undermines any unconscious colonising impulse in the spectator while inciting a troublesome malaise that speaks to the subject’s own trauma.

Among the most powerful images here are a pair that work in apparent opposition to each other. A large image of a face hovering beneath or faintly superimposed on a surface of rippling dark waves —and which relates to the theme of ‘disconnection’— finds an inverse echo in a similar image in which the waves have taken on a brilliant silver sheen and where the theme is noted as that of ‘freedom’. There is no naive binary at play here, however. The experience of viewing these images in proximity to each other suggests how thin the line may sometimes be between experiences of social disconnection and freedom. Perhaps how one person’s freedom may be experienced as another’s disconnection or vice versa. In this way the images reach beyond the immediate story of the collaboration between this photographer and her subject / interlocutor asking the viewer to try to think beyond the clichés that banalise current discussions of migrant experience and trauma.



Katy Hundertmark, Assistant Editor Foam Magazine

The exhibition Abstract Works - Living in Exile presents the results of an ongoing collaboration between the Bangladeshi journalist and activist Shammi Haque and the Scottish artist Elaine Jeffrey. Over the course of 3 months the two established a close exchange about Haque’s flight story and her current status as a political refugee living in Berlin.

Jeffrey’s vibrant and evocative photographs are directed by Haque’s words and navigate themes such as belonging, memory and grief through visual abstractions of her family and hometown. While some works refer to Haque’s much missed mother and a father, who left the family early in her childhood; others point at the patriarchal influence in Bangladesh, or memories of a secret boat ride from her village Patkathi to the capital Dhaka. These representations do not aim to deviate from the political activism or traumatic experiences that drove Ms Haque to leave Bangladesh, but rather to represent the life she was forced to leave behind in order to find freedom and safety.

The blurred colour compositions that Jeffrey creates through long exposure of archival Youtube video footage, exude a ghostly, even ephemeral aesthetic and remind the viewer that memories remain in constant flux, and can disappear or resurface arbitrarily. The monochrome portraits accompanying the large-scale abstract works on the other hand are put together by daily selfies that Haque shared with Jeffrey. They anchor the works with the intention of keeping the viewer mindful of who and what the exhibition is about.




Laura Hynd

Visual Artist
Associate Lecturer - Falmouth University of the Arts

Creatively using what is best at their disposal, self portraits, or the selfie, juxtaposed with Bollywood films of haunting quality, Elaine Jeffrey and Shammi Haque create a moving body of work. We are invited to dive in to a culture and family missed by a refugee. And share intimate moments in Haque’s self portraits. The abstracts of Bollywood films unveil the hint of a figure, the aura of a culture, while the portraits reveal a strength and history beyond our understanding and a vulnerability exposed and hidden within the layered compositions.

This is not work about victim, this is work about passion, strength, vulnerability, and longevity. Artists working with refugees often expose a white saviour perspective, a temporary fix, a western gaze, and orientalism. There is no such evidence within this collaboration. Haque and Jeffrey’s conversation is clear throughout, both voices heard with equal measures. This narrative considers Haque’s perspective and voice, a clear contrast to the ego driven populist art and journalism past and present, prolonging tropes detrimental to refugees.

This is a refreshing and moving work, that demands deep consideration.



The photographs of Elaine Jeffrey contain the power of paintings. They manage to catch the sublime moment of any particular story served by the diversity of life. The time in her art flows slowly like those long moments when life passes before your eyes. Each of her images is like a heart felt story.

Red Dot Gallery, Sofia, 2015


Social impressionism is the genre in which Elaine Jeffrey places her project “The Times We Live In”. She touches everyday life themes, moving through and overcoming space as a key element of human perception by using unusual points of view. Socially significant events are the focus of the otherwise soft-focus visual tales. Bright and colourful spots paint the portraits of people in the news broadcasts, but avoid imposing the suggested and single view of their stories.

Nadezhda Pavlova - photographer, curator SYNTHESIS Gallery of Photography, Sofia, 2016


Elaine Jeffrey’s photography is wonderful in that it takes you: to a place; to a feeling. It is personal to her but accessible to you if you let yourself be drawn into the work. The images also have a wonderful painterly quality but remain masterfully photographic. These images are what photography has reached.

Colin Jarvie, former Senior Lecturer London College of Art, 2012


Remaining loyal to her documentary beginnings Elaine’s style has evolved over the years into a form of poetic imagery. Through her work she discloses the spirit of a location and renders the great and the small as equal. The resulting images reflect Jeffrey’s individual perception of public spaces.

Lambert Design, Stuttgart, Germany, 2012

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