By Amy Lineham from Disposable Perspectives.
At the end of 2016 I spent 5 weeks volunteering in the then newly opened Porte de la Chapelle refugee camp in Northern Paris. During my time there a number of journalists visited to take photos. Some spoke to one or two residents for a couple of minutes, most did not. I found this lack of engagement infuriating – by homogenizing the camp residents as ‘refugees’ the journalists, whether sympathetic or condemnatory, were undermining their status as individuals, defining them only in terms of their circumstance.
To address this I decided to give out disposable cameras to 15 people living in the camp for them to document their lives. Two blank postcards were given with each camera for those involved to write a message alongside their photos. Of the 15 given out, 8 were returned. There were various reasons for the ones lost including police brutality, an issue underplayed in the media and experienced by people shockingly often. In many ways these loses tell as much of a story as the developed photos, the instability of these peoples’ lives reflected in the interruption of their participation. The aim of this camp was redistribution of residents to accommodation centres across France, a process in which people were often notified of their destination just hours before they were expected to depart and loaded onto buses without clear information as to their destination. In such an uncertain environment even simple tasks become challenging, particularly alongside the disorientation of adjusting to yet another entirely new place.
It is clear from the developed films that those involved truly appreciated the opportunity to record their lives. The window which the images offer shows a touchingly intimate story of friendship and ‘camera’derie in the face of difficult conditions. The Porte de la Chapelle camp is an adult men’s camp, by far the largest group in the refugee population. I feel this holds a great significance – male, adult refugees have been ‘othered’ (the focus of media scaremongering) more than any other group. These photos show more than ever how ridiculous the fearful border policies eliminating so many over 18 from asylum are (not to say the policies for children are fair, or even being upheld). Almost all those involved were only just out of their teenage years, yet those couple of years sees them labelled dangerous and undesirable, no longer worthy of our compassion. I myself aimed to work in the women and children’s centre in Calais before it was dismantled because of fears learnt from the media as to how the adult men might behave towards me as a young woman. Writing now after my time in the camp I can honestly say I was harassed there less than a normal night out in London.
This project offers a rarely seen insight into the boyish, unthreatening lives of those the right wing press has insisted will destroy our society if welcomed over the channel. If nothing else, dispelling this idea improves the quality of life of those presently living in fear of the ‘tide’ or ‘wave’ of refugees. This project is in no way for them however eliminating these prejudices would undoubtedly improve a society slipping ever further into segregated bigotry.
It is my aim that these photos and the heartfelt messages accompanying them reach as wide an audience as possible, initially via a free exhibition in London and later in a digital gallery on the website – www.disposableperspectives.wordpress.com. The website also contains details of the crowdfunding page with which we’re raising money for printing materials and gallery space rental at the start of June. Any donations would be so appreciated, in addition to its role as a platform I hope the exhibition will raise awareness about an issue that remains, despite dwindling media attention, far from solved. Together we can make refugee voices heard.