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A Short History of Photographers Illustrating Eurozone Crises With Tiny Plastic Toys

It’s hard being a photographer assigned to document the mess that is the eurozone! The various crises that have struck the monetary union since the 2008 financial crisis — and which have culminated in the current agonizing over Greece’s possible default and eurozone exit — are tricky to illustrate. They involve abstract concepts such as ...

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It’s hard being a photographer assigned to document the mess that is the eurozone!

The various crises that have struck the monetary union since the 2008 financial crisis — and which have culminated in the current agonizing over Greece’s possible default and eurozone exit — are tricky to illustrate. They involve abstract concepts such as “national sovereignty” and “European unity.” There are only so many shots out there of sad European flags and steely-eyed Angela Merkels.

And so, photographers have had to get creative.

If there’s a bright side to the man-made catastrophe currently unfolding, it is the inspiration that it has provided to photographers, who, faced with illustrating the abstruse, the esoteric, and the conceptual, have turned to tiny plastic figurines — from Lego to Playmobil — for help. With this weekend’s Greek crisis, these valiant men and women were back on the job. And we’ve gathered the best of their work from over the years in one place. Enjoy.

June 29, 2015

GERMANY, BONN - JUNE 29: Coctruction site Euro. Our picture shows a sqashed Greek 1 Euro coin with miniature construction worker figures. (Photo by Ulrich Baumgarrten via Getty Images)

Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images

With Greeks tasked with making a choice between accepting creditors’ plans — that is, a future of more austerity — or rejecting them, and almost certainly exiting the eurozone, photographer Ulrich Baumgarten opts for the above.

Here’s his caption, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity (as have the other captions in this article):

“Construction site euro. Our picture shows a squashed Greek 1-euro coin with miniature construction-worker figures.”

March 18, 2014

GERMANY, BONN - MARCH 18: Symbol photo on the topics of poverty, subsistence, minimum wage, old-age poverty and child poverty. Miniatur figures standing and sitting on a 1 Euro coin, on March 18, 2014 in Bonn, Germany. (Photo illustration by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)

Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images

In the spring of 2014, austerity is in full effect. Unemployment rates in Southern European countries from Greece to Italy to Spain are staggering. Pensioners, in particular, are vulnerable to future government spending cuts.

Baumgarten, again, this time with a very sad caption:

“Symbol photo on the topics of poverty, subsistence, minimum wage, old-age poverty, and child poverty. Miniature figures standing and sitting on a 1-euro coin.”

Dec. 15, 2010

BERLIN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 15: In this photo illustration plastic, toy construction workers and pigs stand around a one Euro coin on December 15, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. European leaders are scheduled to meet at a European Union summit in Brussels tomorrow to discuss measures on how to stabilize the Euro that could include the creation of a permanent eurozone bailout system. The Euro has come under severe strain in the last year through the economic problems of some of its members, and a group of nations nicknamed the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) have been named by many analysts as the countries posing the biggest threat to the common currency's stability. (Photo Illustration by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Today, the eurozone crisis is (fingers crossed!) mostly contained to one country: Greece. But at its peak, there were a handful of countries that looked like they could go the Grexit route. The so-called “PIIGS” — Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain — all looked vulnerable.

Above is photographer Sean Gallup’s attempt to illustrate the situation:

“In this photo illustration, plastic toy construction workers and pigs stand around a 1-euro coin on Dec. 15, 2010.”

Oct. 13, 2012

Picture taken on October 13, 2012 in Lille shows an illustration made with figurines set up on Euro coins in front of the European Union flag.  AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

Late 2012 was not a good time for the eurozone. While the countries that had been on the brink of exiting the union appeared to be back in the fold, the whole region was experiencing recession. The last three months of the year saw the sharpest contraction since the beginning of 2009. What was photographer Philippe Huguen going for, with his figures standing on top of piles of euros, contemplating an EU flag? Were they pondering what it meant to be European? To be part of this union? His bare-bones caption provides little guidance:

“An illustration made with figurines set up on euro coins in front of the European Union flag.”

July 26, 2012

Picture taken on July 26, 2012 in Paris shows an illustration made with figurines and euro coins. Europe's economic crisis has deepened, with a slump in German confidence, worsening British recession and a debt-wracked Spain seeking French support in the face of soaring borrowing costs. While fears grew on July 25, 2012 that Spain, the fourth largest eurozone economy, is going to need a fresh bailout, storm clouds were also gathering over Europe's top economy.  AFP PHOTO/JOEL SAGET        (Photo credit should read JOEL SAGET/AFP/GettyImages)

JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

Photographer Joel Saget attempts to depict a Europe experiencing “a slump in German confidence, worsening British recession [Britain, of course, remains on the pound], and a debt-racked Spain seeking French support in the face of soaring borrowing costs.” Will they be able to hold it up? Or will it all come tumbling onto these two construction-worker types?

Sept. 27, 2011

BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 27: In this photo illustration a Lego shark chomps down on a Lego figure holding a Greek flag as other figures holding an Italian (L), Portuguese (C) and Spanish flag look on over a sea of Euro coins on September 27, 2011 in Berlin, Germany. Europe is continuing to wrestle with the ominous prospect of a Greek debt default that many fear could spread panic and push the already fragile economies of Italy, Portugal and Spain into a Eurozone crisis with global repercussions.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

A classic of the genre — perhaps the best it has to offer. Gallup’s caption speaks for itself:

“In this photo illustration, a Lego shark chomps down on a Lego figure holding a Greek flag as other figures holding an Italian (left), Portuguese (center), and Spanish flag look on over a sea of euro coins on Sept. 27, 2011, in Berlin, Germany.”

Bonus: Recent photos that don’t involve tiny plastic figures, but nonetheless remain bold attempts to illustrate the Greek crisis.

GERMANY, BONN - FEBRUARY 21: Settled dispute? Boxing gloves with the flags of Greece and the EU  on a European flag, on February 21, 2015 in Bonn, Germany. (Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)

Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images

“Settled dispute? Boxing gloves with the flags of Greece and the EU on a European Union flag, on Feb. 21, 2015, in Bonn, Germany.”

ATHENS, GREECE , JANUARY 12: Old Greek Drahama  and Euros on Monday 12. 2015 in Athens.Photo by MIlos Bicanski/Getty Images

Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

“In this photo illustration, paper money of old Greek drachmas and euros are crunched up as they are displayed on Jan. 12, 2015, in Athens, Greece. Global markets have been shaken by fears that Greece could abandon the euro if the radical left-wing Syriza party wins the election.”

GERMANY, BONN - FEBRUARY 12: Squashed Greek 1 Euro coin in a vice, on February 12, 2015 in Bonn, Germany. (Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)

Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images

“Squashed Greek 1-euro coin in a vise on Feb. 12, 2015, in Bonn, Germany.”

Top photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is the Europe editor at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon. @APQW

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