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The Instagram Migrant was actually an advertisement in disguise

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A man who made a significant impression on social media as he posted snaps of his supposedly illegal journey from North Africa to Spain on Instagram, has been revealed as a perfectly legal beach handball player, who was acting as part of a photography exhibition. Many have said the stunt was in bad taste, but many others have come to its defence, claiming that it puts a human face to a growing migration crisis which has barely been out of the headlines this week.

A man who posted snaps of his supposedly illegal journey from North Africa to Spain on Instagram, has been revealed as a man who was acting as part of a photography exhibition

Hagi Toure posed in a series of selfies and photos on Instagram, which appeared to show him hiding in a truck, walking across the desert and rowing terrified on a small boat across the sea. But the account (which went viral over the weekend after being covered by The Huffington Post) was actually set up by creative Spanish advertising and production agency Volva, for an annual photography exhibition called GETXOPHOTO, which has “Travel” as its theme this year. The project was set up by Volga and directed by the Barcelona studio Manson.

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Tomás Peña, one of the directors of the project, shot all the photos in and around Barcelona with his iPhone in a single day. He said of his work: “Instagram has the potential to make people think and have a moment for reflection to think about it, but we didn't want to criticise the system necessarily. This is happening every day and we wanted to show how it would look if you told the story on Instagram. I am on Instagram, I post pictures of my friends, my daily life, like everyone does, but if you imagine that this situation on Instagram is that person's life - it really gives perspective.”

Hagi Toure posed in a series of selfies and photos on Instagram, which appeared to show him hiding in a truck, walking across the desert and rowing terrified on a small boat across the sea

Peña said that Toure, who is a legal migrant from Senegal, was a lovely, happy man, and that all three actors in the pictures “Understood what we were doing.” One of the photos on the account shows the actors appearing to land safely in Spain after a dangerous sea crossing, where they embrace on the shore. In the first post on the project's account, Toure appeared with a smiling woman, writing “Today I start a new dream. Today I start my travel to Europe for a better future for my family. I will be telling all my trip here. The good and bad moments. Hope you like it.” He later appeared in shots showing him apparently about to ride on a motorbike with a friend, and rowing in water saying he is “Really scared.” It’s pretty harrowing stuff, so it’s understandable that many users who became engrossed in Toure’s story reacted badly when they found out it was all smoke and mirrors.

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A press release from Volga, the production agency behind the stunt, defended their work, and said that photography was becoming indispensable to travel, adding: “If this is true for industrial tourism - the endless search and sharing of 21st century takes on pastoral ideals - it applies equally to the increasing numbers of those whose journeys are the result of necessity. Migrants and refugees, displaced by dictatorial regimes, the horrors of war and environmental and economic disasters.” Volga producer Oriol Caba, added: “In developed countries, there’s a use of the self-image that is not common to other parts of the globe. We wanted to show how the banality of the treatment of the self-image could be used to produce an image of the self but in a very different context, like the dangerous and traumatic trips people embark on to get a better life. We thought it was strong and powerful enough to make a statement and to raise questions.”

A release from Volga, the advertising and production agency behind the stunt, defended their work, and said that photography was becoming indispensable to travel

In response to criticism of the fabricated account, Peña said: “We wish it would help. We did this for an exhibition that is talking about travel. We tried to touch on something that is happening every day, for people to think about it. We are not here to find solutions - I mean I wish we were. It's using a very down-to-earth language, the language that we all speak, the internet. We are not politicians.” Peña said none of his team had experienced illegal immigration, and the three actors had come from Senegal legally to Spain when they were kids. Since the photography stunt gained media attention, Toure has set his own personal Instagram profile to private.

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