South London Photographer: Dunkirk

Yesterday at 6am I set off with Wandsworth based organisation Just Shelter heading for Dunkirk to deliver donations to families living in and around the area. Since the demolition of the Calais camp (the Jungle) last year and the burning of the official Dunkirk camp, there is nowhere for people to be. People are still arriving nevertheless, or being ejected from one country and sent back to another only to be rejected by them too. So, as predicted by charities and media, there are now smaller unofficial camps springing up and life is unimaginably hard for anyone living there. Just Shelter have published a moving and informative account of our time in Dunkirk, which describes very well some of the challenges people face as well as the woefully inadequate provision just about being allowed in.

Here are a selection of images from yesterday. As always I have avoided revealing any individual identities due to potential risks to people escaping terror.

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When we arrive a midday meal has been delivered and people are queuing. This process is often disrupted by police and for a long while until recently could only be done illicitly.
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This is the only way to wash and this contraption has just recently arrived.  Four to 6 people can fit at a time, although there are an estimated 600 people staying here. Sixteen hundred people are believed to be living this way in the Dunkirk area.
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We spoke to a number people who had just arrived here with absolutely nothing to their names. Sleeping bags and blankets are handed out by Care4Calais wherever possible, but there are nowhere near enough tents for everyone, so many people must sleep with no cover at all.
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I took this photograph in a wood where a small group of families were sheltering.
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There is nothing to do here but sit and wait
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The surreal manicured motorway landscape is changed by the people who find themselves trapped here.

After we had been in the camp for a couple of hours we went to the nearby supermarket with two truly amazing young women, who have been supporting people. There we bought some additional provisions with money donated by residents of Wandsworth.

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These women are extremely generous with their time, guiding and supporting us. Read more in the Just Shelter blog.
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Just Shelter volunteers making sure the people we had spoken to in the camp receive what they have asked for.
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Just Shelter funds are used to buy small parcels of treats for children living in the camp.

 

After our visit to the supermarket we return to the camp and hand out parcels as well provide activities for the children.

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There are several families struggling to exist in the area we visit.
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Blankets are laid out above a stream to collect and filter water.
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A man I met wanted me to see where and how he lives. As we walk to his tent he talks of beheadings, his own injuries and lost family members.
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In this section of the woods I am told about police brutality, suspicion of corruption between various authorities, heavy-handed threats from smugglers and again, the loss of family members. Most of the time I get on with my job, but it is more difficult when someone describes how they lost their daughter in a bomb blast, and how he, his wife and their two surviving children nearly suffocated in a lorry.
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Staying connected is critical. So many people I spoke to asked me if I have a charger. There were electric points availabe in the camp that burnt down but here it is only available sometimes and not everyone is able to make use of the generators that arrive.
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At certain times in the day someone (not official) brings electricity. This image was taken on my previous visit.
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I spend time talking to various people and am reminded of the links people have. These mementoes are significant to the person wearing them as they are gifts from family he has left behind.
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Not everyone has tents but those who do are grateful. It rained heavily the night before we visited.
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I am careful to avoid identities.
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Camp fires burn all day keeping people warm and will certainly be needed by evening time. On the day we are visiting, despite being August, we feel the chill later when we wait for our ferry.
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By the time we leave a second meal has been delivered. I am always overawed by the charity that provide these meals. It is run entirely by volunteers and one of the most positive aspects of this ongoing situation.
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As we drive to get our ferry back to the UK I think about all the people we have spoken to during the day. Many, many talked of police dogs attacking them, one man showed me a video of himself being held in a van as he watched the ferry leave Calais port. Another man told me how he was restrained with four belt-like contraptions in the UK and shows me the marks left on his body. His companion tells me how he was hit in the eye by UK border police. Some people have broken limbs and there are sick children. And without fail, each person I spoke to told me about the loss of family members, or their homes, and their desperate desire to live in safety. Every time I drive past this extraordinarily expensive fence near Calais, I think about how the money could have been spent helping people fleeing wars and climate change instead of turning this part of Northern France into a strange prison landscape.

 

All images (c)Sarah-Jane Field 2017

South London Photographer: With Just Shelter in Northern France

Views my own

It’s hard to know how to begin this blog. In the last year so much has happened in and away from the UK, and that moment in 2015 when Alan Kurdi’s body triggered a wave of empathy followed by supportive action in the west seems a long time ago. Today we are bombarded by news telling us the UK is intolerant of non-British born people; the only way we can move forward is in a state of isolation. And that our nation is split between those who want closed borders and those who prefer for them to remain open. I think we should be wary of what our own politicians tell us about who we think we might be.

Last year the well-publicised Calais refugee camp, the Jungle, was razed and just a few months ago the official camp in Dunkirk was burned and destroyed. Yet people have been traveling from all over the world to Northern France in the hope of coming to the UK for more 20 years and despite state sponsored efforts to stop the trend, people continue to arrive. Knowing that I travel to the area with Earlsfield based organisation, Just Shelter, people constantly ask me what is happening over there. Some say, “but what has it got to do with us? Why should it be our responsibility?” There are arguments to suggest it has a great deal to do with us and our imperial history has much to answer for. Nevertheless, human beings are living in fields, right next to motorways and hidden behind shopping centres in Northern France, with virtually nothing. Existing as if in the Middle Ages long before there was anything like a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Simply hoping the issue is going to go away isn’t working. Bombs continue to fall in far away places. Temperatures keep rising making some countries uninhabitable. People continue to drown in the Mediterranean as they flee towards a better life. The figure for drownings just this year is 1,650 people. (June, 2017)

Many do want to help. But this issue is almost off the news radar for now. And so  charities based in France are struggling to find volunteers and funds to feed people. Just Shelter continues to raise awareness and money and you can find out how you can help by visiting their Facebook page.

Here are some of my impressions from my time there as I travelled with Just Shelter last Sunday.

Images (c)SJField 2017

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Just Shelter volunteers are briefed at the beginning of the day by a long term Help Refugees volunteer
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Just Shelter volunteers pack food parcels in a carpark near Dunkirk with volunteers from Help Refugees Children
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An image of a smiling child looks down on volunteers as they help, reminding them of why they are there.
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Adele, a volunteer we met in Calais, and Laura who joined Just Shelter for the day working together in the kitchen
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The authorities are being more exacting and demanding of people and organisations who run the warehouse, but it was good to see some of the improvements and a newly ordered warehouse. They will be well prepared as numbers increase.
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Biscuits were being prepared for an Eid supper when we visited.
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Children are children wherever you go in the world and treats are a welcome distraction.
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People cooking are all wearing what you’d expect them to when preparing food in the warehouse.
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Chichu was volunteering for a week and we met him on his very first day. He was pleased to be there.
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Elle from Help Refugees Children and Vanessa who heads up Just Shelter putting together children’s lunch packs. Many refugees arrive in France with hardly anything and money is scarce.

The rest of the images are taken in an odd no-man’s land just off a motorway slip road where a number of people, including children, are living; some in tents, some without any cover. It is one of several spots in Calais where people can be found living without any of the most basic requirements most of us take for granted. One of Just Shelter’s partners, Help Refugees Children took arts and crafts for the children but adults also enjoyed some of the activities. Ways to alleviate endless boredom is always welcome.

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Reference:

Townsend, M 2017. Mediterranean death rate doubles as migrant crossings fall. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/03/mediterranean-refugees-migrants-deaths (Accessed 28/06/2017)

South London Photographer: Working with inspiring companies

A few weeks ago I returned to Aurelia Skincare, having worked with them in 2015 when I photographed their inspiring founder and CEO, Claire Vero. This time we were capturing their new product Little Aurelia which you can read about in Smallish Magazine, a publication aimed at parents. The article tells you how the new product came about and includes some lovely images of Claire and her son, and you can also see more on Little Aurelia’s webpage and social media streams. I have to say the product looks, smells and feels absolutely lovely and it was a pleasure to work with the Aurelia team again.

Here are a few of my favourites. If you have a company and need photography, do get in touch for examples of other product-promotion, and lifestyle/editorial images.

Images (c)SJField 2017

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South London Photographer: Exhibiting work at the Grosvenor Arms, SW18

For those of you in the SW18 area, or if this corner of London is easy enough to get to, do pop into one of my local pubs run by friend and businessman, Brendan Conway. Pictures from my project documenting the Grosvenor Arms’ refurbishment, along with a handful of images I took while covering events in the pub will be on display for the duration of half term and for a short time afterwards. The exhibition was part of a first year anniversary celebration held in the Grosvenor on Thursday evening; a successful evening attended by locals and supporters of the venture and the work.

Here is a short extract from the accompanying text that supports the images. The full text can be read in the pub or on the Grosvenor’s Facebook page.

“Brendan, who looks to the past when he narrates the touching memory he has about his father and the local pub, quotes social scientist, Gregory Bateson in his written work; “Stories are the royal road to the study of relationships. What is important in a story, what is true in it, is not the plot, the things or the people in the story, but the relationships in them.” (1972)

These images document social relations that are integral to here, this place and to now. They acknowledge multiple layers of past and make it welcome not only in the present, but in our imagined futures too.” (Field, 2017)

I’d like to say a very public thank you to the people who allowed me to photograph them, to Brendan Conway and his wife Rowan who have been extraordinary supporters of me and my work and to everyone in the community who have demonstrated their enthusiasm and continued backing.  Following the exhibition, images will be be given to the people in the pictures.

Image (c)SJField 2016

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South London Photographer: At the foot of a mountain in Italy

It’s taking me a little while to get my head back into every day life. Sitting in the spring sunshine reading books while the kids went completely feral was much needed and I made the most of it, but I think I might have fried some cells just beneath my skull. Ever since we returned my brain has felt like sludge which is not ideal when you’re trying to do things where you actually need a fully functioning head.

It wasn’t all play and no work. I had taken more camera equipment than I usually do when I visit my mother in Italy especially so I could experiment with how I photograph my family. I guess I also needed to work out if wandering round with heavier gear in my bag or over my shoulder felt acceptable. I’ve always used a relatively small albeit very decent camera on holiday, most likely because I was carrying quite enough to be getting on with when the boys were very young, such as extra nappies and the rest of it. Plus I remember having an SLR over my shoulder, bending down to help a child and whacking him in the bonce with it, which wasn’t ideal, obviously. It was my child I hasten to add, not a client’s. But lately I’ve sort of gone off my little camera. I must state now, this is not a product review. I don’t do those and if I did I’d have to give the camera I’m referring to an excellent review. It’s takes terrific pictures. And ultimately you have the equipment you have – the whole constant sell, sell, sell we live with is trying, so I’m not on about specific brands here.

Nevertheless, I’ve begun to feel limited by the camera I have used for a while when I’m with the boys as I wasn’t always getting the images I was after. Frustrating! So a couple of months ago I started using the camera I use for work, a full frame SLR, more and more when I was out with the family. I immediately felt happier with it and have since been taking that camera out fairly frequently for personal images.  But one of the good thing with my smaller camera is that it has a fixed prime lens. Which may sound annoying, but actually it stops you from needing or wanting to take out extra lenses, and if you have to get closer or move further away, then you’re forced to do exactly that… shift your position. Which I like. In fact, whenever I work for myself on long term projects rather than for a client with the main ‘work’ camera, I prefer a lens that doesn’t zoom. That way, you get to know your frame which can be a really beneficial, especially when you’re working on a series of images and you’re after a cohesive feel for the whole set. I do, of course, have a choice of lenses to choose from when working commercially, and so I took a choice with me on holiday this time. Yup, definitely due to the fact there are no longer nappies and buggies to think about, extra camera equipment seems more doable and less like an intolerable and terrible nuisance. So with all my clobber, I experimented each day and tried to work out which scenario I prefer when with the boys going forward. I can’t say I have any definitive answers and, despite what I just said, I did really like using the ridiculously long zoom lens that is heavy as Hades, even though there is absolutely no way you can be shy about the fact you’re taking photographs in public when you’re pointing it at someone.

Before I went away I was convinced I’d get rid of my small camera soon and put the funds towards a new lens which I’ve wanted for years. But looking through my pictures I’m not sure now. I probably should and probably will but I’m terrible at making decisions. I know I will stick with using the SLR more and more when I’m out and about though. And aren’t I lucky to have a choice at all!

I have said a little about each camera I used for the images below. It is not a cohesive set. In fact it’s not a set at all but each has elements worth comparing. (c)SJField 2017

PS-  You can check out an earlier blog where I shared some images from Italy at Easter in 2015 here. The weather was very different that time as you can see. These are taken with the little camera and it makes me think, oh no, I’ll need a wider prime lens to replace it if I sold … best keep hold of it, heh?

1) The first couple were with the camera I have used for a few years when out and about with my family. It’s small and light with a fixed lens so hangs over my shoulders without getting in the way. It takes good pictures but is slower than it might be to find focus in low light. I’ve always really enjoyed the fact I can just grab it and go.

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2) Taken with my SLR on a 50mm lens which is probably my favourite to use. I suspect I get overexcited by the very low apertures but it’s great for me because it’s light and easy to carry round. I am also pleased to have used this in Calais and Dunkirk as it is less of a huge in-your-face object.

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3. Finally, taken with a zoom which means you can be quite far away when taking the images if necessary. This lens is actually really great with kids. I love using it but it’s heavy and not always practical if you don’t really feel like standing out. Also the size and weight make a tripod worth considering which isn’t always desirable when chasing children round and trying to capture moments rather than setting up posed images  – and so means you have to develop a very steady hand.

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South London Photography: Headshots and other portraits

My first love with photography is portraiture. It always has been. And since taking up photography I have enjoyed the process of spending time with people, getting to know them relatively quickly and capturing an authentic quality about them in my camera. However, there is something quite satisfying about photographing people I already know well, like one of my oldest friends, Trudi Jackson, who also happens to be a talented actor. Trudi was recently kind enough to let me work with her for longer than I normally do when shooting headshots. Poor woman must have been exhausted after our day, which of course included a couple of breaks, (I’m not a total tyrant!) during which we fetched her daughter from school and ballet. And who, lucky for me, is equally obliging. Working with Trudi for an extended period gave me plenty of opportunity to play and learn, so I was grateful for her time, and her daughter’s too, of course!

Here are a handful of head shots with some very different looks, chosen by Trudi’s agent, followed by portraits for my own purposes including a couple of the future talent that is Ms. L, who may well follow in her mum’s footsteps by the looks of things.

(c)SJField 2017

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South London Photographer: Digital Spring Clean

For some time I have been wanting to completely overhaul my website. Finding the time, as always, is proving tricky. However, I’ve sort of started the process and immediately I am faced with questions about what what to put where. It will probably take me an age but I’ll get there. In any event, I’ve decided this is a good place to keep certain images; and these flowers fit into that category.  Recently a potential client told me they wanted to buy some of my flower pictures. I don’t tend to make these anymore (although you never know when the mood will strike) and only intend to print a few so if you are interested, here they are. I print them on beautiful paper which makes the most of their textures and can supply them framed or simply mounted. Get in touch to find out more.

(c)SJField 2015-1016

 

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South London Photographer: St Patrick’s Day at The Grosvenor Arms

Since I had an exceptionally early start on Saturday morning, I was only able to pop into my local pub, The Grosvenor Arms, for a short stint on Friday evening. Of course, Friday was a big night on the calendar for pub owner and landlord, Brendan Conway, and so it was great to see the place absolutely heaving downstairs, and also occupied upstairs with an event hosted by my children’s school’s PTA. I took photographs last year on Paddy’s night just before Brendan closed for refurbishment, so it was good to see how things had developed. Here are a few images from the revelling this year. You can see a short collection of images from my work documenting the pub last year here, and we do plan to exhibit the images very soon (life has been super busy for all so an earlier plan had to be delayed but we’re getting there and will let you know about it when everything has been confirmed).

Images (c)SJField 2017

 

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South London Photographer: Not quite singing in it, but certainly enjoying the rain!

Clients always tells me they hope for lovely weather when we have shoots, but don’t completely write off rainy days for photography. The light is generally much nicer and easier to manage than when it’s bright, and cloud cover is a brilliant diffuser. I’m not sure the kids are quite as enthusiastic as me, and perhaps if it had been a bit more stormy this morning they’d have had something to say about being dragged up to Wimbledon Common. Nevertheless, they were content enough to go for a walk in the drizzle, providing hot chocolate and marshmallows were on the agenda, and even let me grab a few snaps of them as I we did. Here are a handful. (That’s my woolly hat, he’s wearing, by the way…)

Despite the weather there are definite signs of spring in the air! And to celebrate I am currently offering a 5% discount off the cost of a family shoot (as specified on my site, valid until the end of April, T&Cs apply.) Get in touch for more information.

Have a great week. SJ x

Images (c)SJField 2017

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South London Photographer: Dunkirk

I was incredibly pleased Just Shelter invited me to accompany them on Saturday to the Dunkirk Refugee’s Children Centre again, and I’m grateful to all involved for allowing me to document the day. Since first going to the Jungle in Calais in December 2015 I have been mindful of respecting people’s privacy and have avoided posting images of recognisable faces online. However, a part of me really wishes I could share more of the images I took this weekend, but of course safe-guarding means that isn’t possible. If it were you would see children just like yours and mine, playing, laughing and enjoying a fantastic day. We are all used to seeing some incredibly powerful images in the news, as journalists cover the crisis, but often those images emphasise and re-inforce difference. During all of my trips to northern France I have tried to focus on aspects which I recognise as deeply human regardless of any of the categorisations we apply to each other. For example, an innate creative response in all and every social group. This morning, as I looked through and edited photos from Saturday, it was extremely clear the children I photographed in Dunkirk and those I might be employed to capture in south London are exactly the same. Although the former aren’t living surrounded by all that we take for granted, they are just kiddies doing what kids do. The people who set up and run the Children’s Centre in Dunkirk have done a fantastic job making that a possibility.

If I could show some of those other photos I took, the ones with faces, you would see joy in the smiles of the girls who had been singing and dancing to Let it Go from Frozen several times, just like my friends’ daughters might have done, before playing All About That Bass as loudly as they were allowed to. You’d see the eager faces of toddlers who enjoy showing off artwork or toys they are particularly fond of. And perhaps you’d be able to recognise and connect with the physicality of the little boy who skipped through the camp in exactly the same way my own four-year-old son does routinely. The delicious hysterical laughter triggered by Earlsfield based performer, Jake Rodrigues, was, as always, wonderful to hear. Perhaps one of the best things from the day was the genuine, utterly spontaneous laughter from so many young children, and we were rewarded with plenty of it. Jake thoroughly entertained everyone, including a journalist who insisted on joining him with a guitar he somehow found during the second half of the day, which led to an impromptu mini-gig for all. I’d hope that rather than difference my photos would show you how very similar we all are. But even though we had such a lovely time the seriousness of the situation could not and should not be ignored. For instance, you can’t help but notice the rashes and bites some children have on their skin, an inevitable and common problem in refugee camps, as it would be for anyone living in cramped conditions without adequate facilities. I have nothing but admiration for any parent living under such conditions while bringing up their children.

During our time in Dunkirk, it was very hard to conceive of anyone wishing those children harm, or of being unable and unwilling to offer sanctuary; yet there they are, stuck with their families in a refugee camp that is woefully inadequate, despite being a far cry from the first Dunkirk camp, shut down last year. The officials who allowed the current camp to be built have done so with some risk to their political careers and should be applauded for that at least. Even so, families are in dire circumstances and the help they receive is deeply appreciated. I know Just Shelter and the Children’s Centre have expressed their huge thanks for all support they receive.

Just Shelter are hosting a coffee morning on 10th March in Earlsfield at 9.15am to raise awareness, garner any further interest and help, as well as raise funds or donations. I will be giving a short talk and showing some more photographs from my various trips to the area. Please get in touch if with me or Just Shelter if you are interested. Numbers are limited so don’t leave it too late.

Best, SJ

Views my own.

Images (c)SJField 2017

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