Marcus Drinkwater

University: London College of Communication

Graduation: 2016

Genre: Documentary

Artist Statement

Over 1000 refugees are living in squalid conditions in the center of Belgrade, sandwiched inconspicuously between the city’s main bus and rail station and Belgrade’s locally controversial housing development “Belgrade Waterfront”. 

The Balkan route for migrates wishing to gain entry to Europe is very much frozen. Dangerously by foot or evening more perilous by smuggler, migrants face sub-zero temperatures and police brutality to try and find a better life in Europe. Though this arduous march has currently halted and a stalemate has commenced. The squat has become a sort of purgatory at the gates of Europe. The Serbian government has set up camps with water, sanitation, and recreation, though many refugees refuse to go there, risking everything, even death to cross the border into the European Union.

Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I studied Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at London College of Communication 2013-2016.

What are some standout moments from your time at university? I have fond memories of the whole course, I find myself very fortunate to spend three years studying a subject I love, in a city I love. London is obviously a big draw to study there. Most people have a love-hate relationship with the city, on one hand, you have the energy and the multiculturalism that make it such a rich and interesting place. On the other, the inequality, the gentrification, and the soaring rent prices. This makes for an interesting degree, especially when the course you are studying is pushing you out to discover the city and tell its stories.

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I struggle to put my work into a certain category, I don't want to complicate it. I'd say Documentary Photographer would suit me best. I would say I am a traditionalist when it comes to photojournalism/documentary photography. I enjoy seeing long-form well-shot photo essays, photographers that push boundaries and immerse themselves into a story. You can see when this is the case. 

What themes do you find yourself exploring? I have two main areas that inspire my work. Current affairs and the big stories that are shaping the world around us. Being at the forefront of the news excites me, I can't think of a better career. There are so many interesting stories to be told. On the other hand the society I grew up in interests me. Regular people and the issues that affect them. I grew up on the Kent coast, it felt safe and secure. I never wanted to photograph here, to me it was so dull and I had always dreamt of packing up my things and going to some far away place. I have just returned and having lived away for four years an interest for "normality" has been sparked. It now feels both familiar and foreign, I want to photograph it all. There are so many stories to be told, you just have to train yourself to look. I still want to work in far away places, though I feel I need to understand where I am from before I can understand where I am going.  

What initially motivated you to make work in Belgrade? I have been following the refugee crisis for years, working partially in Calais to cover the Jungle. Recently I have been following the situation on the Balkan route, what the condition was like, how people were living. I was instantly drawn there, it's a story that needs to be told. It's one of the big stories of the 21st century. I want to discover what compells somone to risk everything for a better life. 

Does this series of work have a title? The series has no title, I wouldn't even know where to start. 

Can you describe some of the feelings you had when you were making this work? Was it easy for you to take these images? When I am working I am working, I put the terrible things I saw to the back of my mind and concentrated on the story. The people in the images live in these conditions, who am I to even comprehend how they feel. That's not to say I approached it stony faced. I believe in working with compassion. You need to put yourself in their shoes and think "how would I feel if I being photographed". I tried to talk to everyone I shot, to learn their story the best I can. I saw many photographers who work for the wire agency's "Reuters, AFP, AP", and they use a very standoffish approach. Shooting from a distance, almost no interaction with the subject at all. Even though the images are probably strong, I find this a little dehumanising. Each to their own; everyone works differently. I'm not perfect, I remember photographing sufferers of frostbite about 1am in a medical tent for severe emergencies. I probably shouldn't have been there and even though I did ask for their permission it still did not feel right. I have to tell myself, this is the truth, people need to see this, this is their story.

You've focused mainly on the people in your images, but given your viewer small insights to their living environments. Was this a conscious decision of yours? I haven't really thought about the fact I've concentrated on people. I guess it is hard-wired in my mind. I am instantly drawn to the people rather than the living environments. I did photograph the environments, though probably most of those were culled out in my edit. I saw a quote "the eyes are the messenger of the soul", and I think this is true. When it comes to the refugee crisis many people are scared to face up the problems. The mainstream media tends to portray these people singular group. I want to show people they are individuals, individuals at a low point in their life. 

Were there any photographers who influenced this work? I find inspiration from so many photographers and artists. Don McCullin inspired me to pick up a camera. When I was 17 I found one of his books in the library and the images both inspired and haunted me. He's was and still is a real professional, I have unending respect for him. Never turning his camera away from the real issues in the world, fearless, honest and humble. One of the great British photographers. So I would say his work ethic inspires all of my work. He once said about his work "I have to make sure when they look at my pictures on a Sunday morning after breakfast, it's going to hit them hard”.

Where do you predominately find inspiration to make new work? To me being a photographer or photojournalist is the best job in the world. I've learned more from photographing people and news than I ever did at school. I'm obsessed with it, obsessed with discovery. I want to see as much as I can in my life, both good and bad. This pushes me to create more work, I need to be moving forward all the time. 

You mention that you suddenly felt inspired when being back on the Kent coast, does this suggest a new body of work is on the horizon? I am always looking to shoot more and to start new stories. When I haven't got anything I am working on it makes me anxious, I have to go out and shoot. Recently, for instance, I saw a poster for an amateur wrestling night, I starting thinking - who are these people? Why do they do it? What is it like? So I went, I went behind the scenes and shot. I probably won't do anything with the images, but you never know where something might lead.

Where do you think you would like to visit next to make more work? I visiting Greece in early 2017 to cover the refugee crisis on the Mediterranean route as Spring starts, I am compelled to continue to cover this crisis. It's a world issue.