As some followers of this blog will be aware, for several years I’ve been documenting trips to Northern France with London-based charity Just Shelter, who raise money, collect necessary items and organise educational activities for displaced children in France. For others, it might come as a surprise to hear that people are still living precariously in Calais and Dunkirk. The well-publicised Jungle closed in 2016 but families and individuals have continued to arrive in the area and many are existing without any of the basics most of us take for granted.
Donated toys are washed and books sorted in a warehouse in Calais before being given to children and families. Another warehouse nearby continues to provide food for people in need. (2020)
Over the last few years, I have focused on landscapes which aim to mark the passing of time, as well as the Just Shelter’s activities, and when appropriate I’ve photographed people we met. Cameras and displaced individuals are not a great mix, but one of Just Shelter’s aims is to remind people that there are still many in need as well as busy, underfunded, volunteer organisations providing support.
This weekend was the first time I accompanied Just Shelter after a break of several months, and it was distressing to see that, although some things have shifted, the situation is not improving. One is left wondering if it ever will. Today, as we remember some of the worst events from of our history, we can reflect on the way people are being treated in the US and across Europe, and consider the lack of empathy evidenced by Parliamentarians recently who voted not to reunite refugee children with family members in the UK.
Images of a workshop run by teachers with Just Shelter and volunteers from Project Play this weekend with children who really enjoyed the games and maths lessons provided. (2020)
All images (c)SJField2016-20
It’s been a busy year and I’ve had lots of super successful moments. My work has been chosen and published in more places than ever before. I was offered a bursary to complete the part-time art degree which I’ve been doing with The Open College of Arts, and I received a 90% grade for the last module I completed. (I hope to complete the degree this year if I can.) I also took part in several exhibitions and met lots of new people. And I finally got around to publishing a new website.
Here are a handful of images that will sum-up 2019 for me. I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings. To celebrate the New Year, I’m currently offering 5% off all shoots completed by the end of January 2020 (T&Cs apply). Get in touch on 07581 694934 or drop me a line at email@example.com to find out more.
But most of all – Happy New Year! x
As another youth-strike took place yesterday across the world, I continued my long-term project of documenting protests, which we have seen more and more of in recent months. Here are a few images from the march in London. Although climate was the focus of Friday’s international gathering, some protesters used the opportunity to express their thoughts about alternative or unrelated issues.
I took these images on Monday evening at the end of the bank holiday during one of my visits to the Extinction Rebellion protests (see previous blogs). There might have been a further image here; one of a policeman who was sitting, clearly exhausted in the evening sunshine, arms crossed and alone against some hoarding on Park Lane just before Marble Arch. Diane Arbus whose work you can currently see at the Hayward Gallery said taking photographs can feel ‘naughty’ – and yes, it is when we steal pictures of people in the street. The ethics of street photography seem more complex than ever as the structures of our culture emerge, perhaps in part, due to the internet which acts as a mirror and as ubiquitous smartphone-cameras make everyone a potential photographer/voyeur. Although I had asked most (but not all) the people in my images for their permission, I hoped to take an image of this lone policeman who seemed to represent authority, exhaustion, and isolation so well. Perhaps, in the end, it would have been a clichéd shot that would never have made it passed an initial edit. However, I never got the chance to take my ‘naughty’ picture as he saw me, got up, then walked towards me to call me an idiot. I must stress this was not the behaviour of most police-people I saw, who seemed immensely patient despite what must have been a testing and exhausting week for them.
What are you doing, bloody idiots, costing a fortune, we’ve not seen our families in days, you’re all idiots …. I attempted to explain I was documenting this fantastically interesting period of change in our history … documenting what, there’s nothing to document? You’re all idiots. History is happening in front of us, I said. It’s not history; idiots the lot of you, he’d insisted. I understand he must have had his patience tested. I’d loved to have been able to explain my enthusiasm for witnessing everything I’d been reading about for the last few years emerge so vibrantly, just as the authors had predicted. To see, in front of us, the way we have internalised new ways of understanding and being – in helpful and not so helpful ways – coming to fruition, to see clear evidence of a system changing, to view power evolving. I could have bored the poor exhausted policeman to death with my childlike excitement! Next time, he ranted as he followed me, we won’t …. I never heard what he said about next time as I was too far away from him by then.
I walked on and as I reached the end of the cordoned-off area, another policeman got out of his van. Perhaps his colleague had radioed him about the idiot with the camera coming his way. Nice pictures? he asked. Maybe, I shrugged and smiled at him. It was a beautiful evening. At the bottom of Park Lane tourists stood taking pictures of a golden sun setting over London. Parked outside the Lanesborough Hotel were two super-cars and guests milling about on the steps. And around the corner, yet another sign of homelessness which we see everywhere and far, far too often nowadays.
The following images are from today’s climate Extinction Rebellion protests, which I believe are planned to continue for some days to come. As I have been doing over the last two years, I photographed the way people are choosing to speak out about issues that matter to them. I will need to keep some images back as I read there are planned arrests this evening, but the protesters in the following images are obscured in some way or performing and so overtly present or have already been arrested.
This morning, someone I know said that the arrests had been pre-arranged but I spoke with a legal observer this evening and was told categorically the arrests had not been arranged in any way. Those being led away did not look like they were happy to be going anywhere and I saw how they tried to sit it out – but no-one was violent. I was told people were arrested as gently as possible on Waterloo Bridge this morning, which is where I heard a policeman telling one of his colleagues they were going to arrest people one by one – and then they proceeded to do so.
I was not able to stay for the evening but it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few days.
All images (c)SJField2019
Today I chatted with several people as I wandered through Parliament Square documenting the anti-Brexit protest. Two guys I met, Chris and Bill, asked me who or what I was taking photographs for. I told them I was doing it because I think we’re going through a really important time and that I thought it was worth documenting; in years to come we will look back at this period and children will learn about it in history. People want and are willing to speak up about the things they feel passionate about – and let’s face it, we’re British; under normal circumstances, we’d rather talk about the weather. But lots of people (although not quite everyone, it’s true), regardless of which cause they associate themselves with, are currently frustrated and choosing to be vocal about their feelings one way or another.
Here are some images from today, more than I would normally share on this blog. But I really wanted to convey a message that the people speaking up today were from all walks of life, and not, as some in the media would have you believe, easily categorised into a little envelope. We must do our best to avoid that kind of simplistic thinking as it helps no-one. I also want to point out that there are a few images here of people who feel passionately that we do not need another referendum, and as you will see, they were having perfectly reasonable conversations with people who hold different views to them.
Finally, if anyone finds themselves on my little corner of the internet and would rather they weren’t, please get in touch and chat with me about it.
There seems to be so much upheaval and chaos surrounding us all today, it is very difficult to know how to write about Just Shelter’s trips to France. The team continue to gather donations which people kindly deliver when requested. As always Just Shelter takes everything over to Calais, where they transfer carefully packed boxes and bags filled with the simplest and most basic articles to a warehouse populated by volunteers who give up their time, often for weeks and months on end, in an attempt to help a situation which is seemingly helpless.
Thereafter the London based group travel to a field where people are living in the most appalling conditions, and try in as orderly a fashion as is possible to hand out much needed and appreciated packs of clothing, perhaps some fruit, whatever token of support they can offer.
Each time, I aim to engage with people and I hear the same story. “The police slash our tents. They treat us like animals. The scream at us, push us, they don’t give us even five minutes to get our stuff. Then they take us somewhere. Do they think we would choose to leave our country, our homes to live like this if there was not a good reason? We don’t come here to live like this because we want to. We come because we cannot be free. But here we are treated worse than animals. If we can stay in the sports hall [an indoor space where limited numbers of people can shelter during the coldest months], we are like prisoners with so many rules, lining up, being told when we can come or go.” Another came up to me as I listened to the man and asked me if I knew who I was talking to. “Gengis Khan!!” he laughed. We all laughed. Even though it was bitterly cold, even though people are clearly bored, frustrated, desperate, there is time for irony and humour.
“Take my picture!” some young men invite me towards the fire they are burning. There is little wood and they are using inappropriate donations of women’s nylon underwear from another group visiting which can be worn by no-one here. I take their photos and then get them to message me so I can send them copies. A pair perform and pose with the female undergarments as I photograph them. We all enjoy the playfulness. A guy selling cigarettes stands nearby and asks me if I want to buy any. I don’t smoke, I tell him. We stand quietly and he lets me photograph his bag filled with well-known brands. “A good man. Cheap!” says one of the other guys who had been photographed earlier as he points to the seller. He then indicates to the barber, “A good man also, cheap haircuts.”
“I was a manager in a hotel back in my country. I had a good job. A car. A good home. But no freedom. You criticise the government. And within 24 hours you’re dead.”
When I first arrived at the car park where Just Shelter began the process of handing out backpacks, I noticed a boy who might have been in his late teens or early twenties. He sat on the wooden pole and listlessly watched people queuing patiently for the nominal packs we had gathered from people in London. “Don’t you want one, I asked?” He shrugged. He looked liked he could have done with something warmer to wear. They all did.
At the end of the day, Just Shelter travelled to a more disparate camp where there are many more groups of people. We visited the same camp during our previous visit. I had taken some photographs of boys and young men there before and they recognised me. We greeted each other warmly. Despite their smiles and friendliness, this camp feels darker, less safe. I try to engage with others but it is clear they are not willing. I don’t blame them. I head to the site where the old Jungle used to be and take some photographs to of it now so I can compare with the images I took before.
Afterwards, the group head back to get our ferry. I know we will see some of the same faces again next time.
While our group were there, another team of teachers had been working with children in a local building where families have been able to shelter for the worst of the winter months. The children were grateful for real lessons and their parents equally so. Please follow Just Shelter if you haven’t already so you can read about the work the teachers were able to do while they visited, and to find out how you can get involved.
I recall taking photographs at the first anti-Brexit March in 2016, shortly after the vote took place. Although, of course, there were laughing and smiling people to photograph this time around, the mood I picked up on and see on my screen as I scroll through the images I took is very different from the earlier demonstration. I wasn’t able to stay for long, but long enough to capture these, a visual document of expressions which say a great deal about this dramatic moment in the history of the UK.
All images (c)SJField 2018
Last week I made another emotional journey with Just Shelter to Northern France. Since then I have read several articles which relate to the plight of people whose lives have been so badly affected by war and/or climate changes that they feel compelled to flee. It is good that journalists are once again focusing on the situation, but the news is far from positive. Newly-elected Italian leaders have responded to the situation by closing its ports, but we are told by The Guardian, “Mayors across the south of Italy have pledged to defy a move by the new Italian government – an alliance of the far right and populists – to prevent a rescue boat with 629 people on board from docking in the Sicilian capital.” (Wintour, Tondo, Kirchgaessner, 2018).
A hundred people drowned in the Mediterranean just last week, according to Global Citizens. The article reporting these deaths goes on to tell us more than 3000 people have died every year for the last four. (McCarthy, 2018)
On Friday volunteers from Just Shelter were asked to help serve food alongside a French charity, Emmaus (set up by a priest called Abbé Pierre in 1949 because he was so horrified by the lack of compassion in society towards people who require help). When we were greeted by the centre director she explained how the organisation aims to demonstrate that is possible for people from all over the world to live and work together peacefully.
The area which Just Shelter had been visiting for several months has been cleared (as discussed previously) and people have been moved to a different site, not far away but very far from ideal. You can read more about the day on Just Shelter’s Facebook page, including a report about how the police stopped Emmaus from driving its van into the camp, so that all the food along with trestle tables and other paraphernalia had to be carried much further.
Here are a series of images from Friday; but before I go I will mention one final article which asks us to consider our own culpability in all of this. Kenan Malik, author of The Quest for a Moral Compass, 2014 writes, “This is the reality of Fortress Europe: politicians and officials so blinded by their obsession with illegal immigration that they have lost the ability to recognise their most basic of obligations to others. The fear of allowing illegal immigrants into Europe seems to weigh heavier than the guilt of allowing fellow human beings (who just happen to be African [or anyone else outside the narrow confines of the West]) to die. So when the far-right identitarian movement harass MSF and other NGO rescue boats or when they attack migrant camps, we ought to remember that they are not the first to do so. They are following European officialdom.” (2018)
Views my own, Images (c)SJField 2018