University: University of Gloucestershire
Artist Statement: Over two visits to Calais in 2016, this photographic narrative looks at the turbulent year facing the Calais refugee camp and the people who relied on it. Some saw Calais as a short-term option, but all were uncertain about how long Calais was going to be there for them. My objective was to document the lives of those I met, mostly young men, who were in the most recent unpredictable stage of their lives. I wanted these images to hear first-hand the stories of the refugees; their hopes and dreams, the injustices they have encountered while also witnessing their determination, hope and compassion.
Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I graduated from the Photojournalism and Documentary Photography course at the University of Gloucestershire in 2016.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? Stand out moments are probably meeting like-minded classmates who would later become friends, and seeing how we all developed our individual styles while continuing to inspire and push each other to produce a better image or photo story. Also the tutors I had the fortune to learn from; I'd say the best thing about a degree in photography from my point of view is the advice, feedback and depth of knowledge my tutors offered over 3 years. The guest speakers were a huge source of inspiration also; thinking back Tom Pilston was incredible to listen to. I think my favourite was Peter Mitchell, a great British documentarian and one of the funniest guys I've ever heard, that was a treat.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I'd probably categorise the work I have created so far as documentary for sure. From the first year of university I was taught the fundamentals of how to compose a photo story; to pursue detail shots as well as portraiture plus general views and landscapes in order to tell a story. This was important in my education and I suppose every story I've photographed since would have a photojournalistic and documentary style to it. The opportunities I've had and photographs I've taken since graduating have been great and diverse, however I’m always looking for an image that is still rooted in the documentary tradition.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? I think many of the stories I have photographed explore themes of identity and belonging. I also think all photographers have a willingness and responsibility to photograph the human condition. With the work in Calais I was even more concerned with collaborating and speaking to as many people as I could, understanding the situation as much as possible was the best way for me to create images that justified what the people of the jungle were facing during 2016. Fundamentally I want to create something that communicates something about an experience that I had or that the subject had.
How did these two bodies of work come about for you? Why did you choose to make work around The Jungle in Calais? The work is a reaction to the refugee crisis that has impacted all parts of Europe over the past 18 months. Calais, a situation well represented and in my opinion misrepresented within parts of the British media encouraged me to discover my own truth and experience there. The freedom and flexibility of being a photography student was a huge advantage when creating work like this. My first visit in April 2016 looked to document the weeks following the conflict between the French authorities and the refugees and the subsequent partial closure of the jungle. In October I therefore felt obliged to return and observe the camp in the days running up to it's full closure.
Did the camps differ from how you imagined them to be? Was it difficult to make work there? The camps were mostly how I envisaged they would be. Any preconceptions would have been detrimental, and as I mentioned earlier the best way for me to be was to converse and collaborate with the people who lived there. Many refugees, understandably, were sceptical of any media presence so talking to them about their situation before even discussing photography was important. I didn't find it difficult to make work there, it was challenging and different to my previous photographic experiences, but the situations faced by the refugees and their hope and optimism during adverse circumstances never made it difficult for me.
What are your thoughts or opinions on making work in these types of places? I think it's vitally important for photographers to produce work in places such as Calais and report on the wider refugee crisis. We've seen examples of images that can capture public attention or mobilise people on pressing human rights issues. Photography is a vital way of bearing witness to world events while also being able to give a voice to otherwise unreported stories and deepening our understanding.
Were there any photographers who influenced you when making this work? There are many photographers I looked to while making this work. Alixandra Fazzina's images were a constant source of inspiration. Jerome Sessini's images from Calais I found impacting and Daniel Castro Garcia's documentation of the refugee crisis and the resulting book Foreigner was a great source. While carrying out research for my work I exchanged emails with Daniel where he told me about his approach to his work. His commitment to the book project and exploring the impact of migration around Europe was a big influence on the work I produced.
In one sentence, what story does your work in Calais tell? There are many interpretations of the refugee crisis, I hope my images show individual moments of those going through migration, and them trying to make it in a continent in the grip of an identity crisis.
As you studied a Photojournalism and Documentary Photography degree, how did it equip and prepare you to travel and make this kind of work? Have you got any tips or can you give any advice? I think every photojournalism student is interested in both domestic and foreign affairs and has ambitions to cover both, and the course at Gloucestershire understand that. Throughout my time at Gloucestershire there would be unlimited support and advice helping with any project idea. The tutors would maintain that a student travel for the importance of the story and what you want to communicate, and also state the intended audience, which is really important. Photographers are some of the most independent people around, however for me, I gained through working with a peer for both trips to Calais. I went both times with friend and photographer Aaron Chown; it was good for us both to advise each other in terms of editing while we were shooting and also being supportive to one another. I think doing lots of research on the topic you're photographing is really important too, and talking to as many people as you can once you get to a refugee camp in particular.
There’s a story behind every one of your images; for you, for the people in the photographs, and for your viewer. Are you hoping for your images to provoke change and inform people? Have you tried to raise awareness through your practice? If any of my images provoke a conversation or debate on migration into Europe I'll take that. I think change itself is hard to achieve particularly with migration, the politics of a lot of European countries account for that, which itself is why I believe it's important to keep pursuing and documenting this situation. Photo stories are crucial at helping us understand complex issues such as migration and human rights.
What does the future hold for your work? I want to develop my work and look at how migration has impacted our country. I want to cover what comes next and what life is like for migrants coming into Britain. There are a few projects I intend to begin working on soon, and although the work we're talking about is based in Northern France, the phrase 'photograph what's around you' seems especially important in Britain right now.