THE CALAIS JUNGLE REFUGEE CAMP

A typical view along many residences in the Calais Jungle refugee camp. In the subtlety of this cinemagraph, I wanted to capture a regular day as residents try to get on with their lives, such as doing the washing.


At the heart of everything I do with cinemagraphs, telling stories and setting scenes is at the core of what I love.

For that reason, using cinemagraphs in a photojournalistic context is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time – to take the medium to real world situations away from polished photoshoots, and hopefully be able to tell a more compelling story. It’s the heart behind my The Miracle Stories account on Instagram, and it has led me to my first opportunity to use cinemagraphs from a real, headline grabbing situation here in Europe: the refugee camp in Calais, France.


At the beginning of 2016, my wife and I went on our first volunteer trip to help in the Calais Jungle refugee camp in France.

The increase of conflict and humanitarian crises in countries around northern Africa and the Middle East, saw Europe flooded with millions of refugees over the last couple of years alone.

The term ‘refugee’ conjures up images with people that usually seem overly negative, but undeservedly so. We’ve heard of some negative instances involving refugees, but the fact is that the majority of refugees come from good homes and good backgrounds. We’d met refugees who had been engineers, teachers and lawyers in their own countries; people who’d had a career and had filled a productive role in their society, along with having their own homes, family and even money – in some cases people had even been wealthy – but in most cases lost all of that as a result of the political/humanitarian chaos or conflict they end up fleeing from.

Their journey was arduous and immensely dangerous, and we'd been no strangers to seeing the news headlined with stories of boats that capsized on the way to Greece or Italy across the Mediterranean, often leading to a really tragic loss of the most vulnerable lives, like that of the young boy who had washed up on a beach.

Sadly, for many, this crossing was only the start of what could still be an even more dangerous journey across Europe, where those seeking refuge faced hunger, homelessness, and women and children were vulnerable to other dangers, for instance, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

But for many individuals, the desperation of trying to find a place to make a better living than what they left behind, motivates them to face any danger and overcome their challenges in whatever ways may be necessary.

Their journey across Europe to Calais could take well over a year, for some refugees, and along the way, families sometimes get separated and some even lose their lives in this quest for safety for them and their families.

Calais was, for most, their final stop as one of France’s busy ports that connect with the UK. It sees busy, daily traffic of travellers and freight that go back and forth, either via ferries, or the EuroTunnel, which runs trains that carry coaches and vehicles back and forth.

Because of the connection to the UK, many people descend on the area to try and sneak into any and all forms of transport that could get them to the UK. 

Many individuals arrived in Calais with the belief that the UK – London in particular –  was a place of utopia where there’s plenty of work and money to go around, and where life would be better than anywhere in Europe. 

A few refugees actually found success in crossing the English Channel by hiding underneath trucks and coaches, while others had braved the EuroTunnel and even the Eurostar high speed train tunnel, often a step that costs them their lives.

The growth of the Jungle camp was at its height through the 2015/2016 winter period, and had brought about many, many needs that the residents of the camp were facing, where the rapid increase in numbers saw a huge increase in basic needs, such as food, clothes, shelter, clean water and basic, clean living conditions.

The camp had developed on a desolate area of sand dunes near the coast, which made it vulnerable to extreme winds, and it also offered no support to pitched tents and many huts that were built on dunes that eroded in the rain. This meant that families had very limited protection from the elements and often faced collapsed homes and torn tents.

Many charities and NGOs that had started to get involved in the camp, focused on the most obvious requirements, such as food, clothing, sleeping bags and tents, which meant that these needs quickly started to get addressed, but others were left unattended.

One such need was the cleanliness of the camp. A camp that hosted around nine to eleven thousand people, was bound to get dirty very quickly, which lead to squalid living conditions, an increase in rodents and an environment that was ripe for the spread of disease.

This is where Greenlight stepped in – a professional organisation based out of London that would go out every other week and help start with the most basic work in the camp: picking up trash. 

One of the very few local dump sites for residents, often set alight an an attempt to empty them. Overflows meant rubbish filled the residential surroundings very rapidly.

Unglamorous as it sounds, it was arguably one of the most impactful acts of service to the camp, because over the course of 2016 the camp had not only gotten much cleaner, but the residents were also educated about the importance of proper waste disposal for health benefits – which in turn meant that a decrease in waste made for a healthier camp, where medical aid had already been a limited resource.

Greenlight later also provided the camp with some wash basins and mirrors fitted into shipping containers, where residents could, for the first time, use mirrors and have a bit of shelter while they shaved/washed up. One resident even said that it had made him feel human again to be able to see himself, rather than feeling like an animal in the jungle.

Despite the long day – not to mention dirty work and physically-demanding labour – involved in removing, quite literally, tons of rubbish from the camp, it was an incredible experience to be part of a team that was passionate about social justice/impact and had been willing to do whatever it took to help make daily living in the camp just that little bit more bearable for those who called it home.

It had also been really amazing to see the drive in the human spirit to survive, and to have seen refugees create opportunities for themselves, as well as taking pride in what they had. The camp had many shops that sold homemade food, drinks and fresh produce – including some of the best naan bread I'd ever had, bought from an Afghani restaurant.

We visited a ‘bike shop’ that built bikes for the refugees from discarded bicycle parts, while another residence we visited had a homemade garden, complete with some flowers, grass and a couple of garden chairs, where the owner had really just wanted to make his environment as pleasant as possible.

Since my first trip in February, I'd wanted to document some of the camp in a cinemagraph format, as I believe that they're incredibly powerful in helping set the scene so much more effectively than photographs would. My first trip was very cold and windy and a few cinemagraphs would've really helped to paint the picture of what refugees had been dealing with to survive in the camp.

These are examples of the donated tents that most people lived in initially, many of which collapsed or got ripped by winds.

The camp was a constant victim of strong winds and rain, and photographs just couldn't really capture that.

So my first and only opportunity to take my camera was in September but, by then, it was difficult to shoot very much. The majority of residents had become aggressive towards any media-looking people, and either shied away from cameras, or became aggressive at the sight of anyone with a camera. With sensationalist media outlets having spun so many negative stories about the camp and its residents, the residents just didn't trust anyone with a camera anymore, no matter who you had told them you were with.

One of only a few residents that allowed me to capture him on camera. Here he's taking time to heat some water for a warm shower.

As a result, most of what I had captured only featured the camp, and not really the residents, out of respect for them not wanting to be portrayed in the media.

The fate of the camp is now sealed, since French president, François Hollande had made his promises to clear the camp and, consequently, the whole camp had been demolished and residents relocated and entered into the French Asylum system. Some of the refugees we’d spoken to had come to accept that France might just be as far as they would get on their journey, and were preparing themselves to accept asylum under French law. Others, however, didn't want to be documented by the French system, as it would prevent them from getting documentation in the UK, should they ever make it over.

This uncertainty meant that some refugees were getting more desperate to try to get to the UK before they got relocated somewhere far away, and we'd even found stowaways hiding underneath our coach during our cleaning trips.

On a more positive note, the UK had finally started the process of allowing some of the unaccompanied minors, to be brought over to the UK and given asylum here, along with an opportunity to finally being reunited with any family they might have. Many of these kids had survived the journey to Calais, and their time in the camp, completely unaccompanied.

At the end of it all, it was heartbreaking to see so many people’s lives in complete and undeserved distress, having lost everything they once had.

It’s my hope that I can continue to work and help tell stories in situations like this in future, as the experience really teaches you so much about humanity, but also about how we should do all we can to look after each other in this world. No one deserves to lose their loved ones, job, career, safety, health, friends and ‘home’ in the manner that these millions of people have, but where it does happen, we should tell those stories and raise awareness so that more people can get together to help.

Working with people in need had long been something close to my heart, and while doing work on the ground is an incredible experience, I hope that I can continue to tell stories as well – and I've found cinemagraphs to be an incredible format for this.

There were two refugees who's stories I managed to capture on condition of anonymity. Please do have a look at The Miracle Stories on Instagram to read more about them.

An overview of the camp, showing the stronger housing structures residents now live in. The sand dune on the right offers very little protection against the wind, but does offer slightly higher ground for refugees looking for better phone signal.

*This blog was originally published on 22 October 2016, when the camp still existed. I have since updated the text to reflect the past tense nature of the camp's existence.


Below are just a few extra still shots taken in the camp.

 These hills in the camp provided extra heights for tents, but also eroded really quickly in the winter months, causing the collapse of some homes.

These hills in the camp provided extra heights for tents, but also eroded really quickly in the winter months, causing the collapse of some homes.

 Some of the Greenlight team conversing with residents, making their way through the camp to clean.

Some of the Greenlight team conversing with residents, making their way through the camp to clean.

 The 'front' of the camp is now a big sand bunker. Previously the flats on the right had all been occupied by residents too, before being cleared.

The 'front' of the camp is now a big sand bunker. Previously the flats on the right had all been occupied by residents too, before being cleared.

 A passage through the residential tents in Calais.

A passage through the residential tents in Calais.

UN WORLD WATER DAY 2016

Today, 22 March 2016, is UN World Water Day.

World Water Day is part of many global campaigns to raise awareness for our needs as a world populace to both work harder to preserve our resources, and to find ways to invest in the livelihoods of millions of people around the world who don't have access to basic clean water.

This year, our friends over at Gallereplay in Berlin partnered with the UN and their Water Day Campaign to create some inspiring and artistic images to accompany various statistics relating to water around the world.

The result is a beautiful collection of cinemagraphs, as currently featured on Gallereplay's site.

As contributors, we could choose a few statistics that we felt inspired to create an image for, and I opted for two.

My first submission was for a statistic that I had not heard of before, but it said: "Nearly 50% of all working adults work in jobs related to water".

Conceptualising such a vast statistic presented some challenges, but I decided to instead opt for a concept as simple as it can get: a drop of water.

Water drops in themselves, especially in slow motion, are almost an epitome of elegance and beauty, and I couldn't think of a better way to approach this statistic than with a purely nicely lit shot of a water drop in slow motion.

To visualise the statistic, I coloured half of the drop blue, also representative of water, to portray a half-coloured drop of water that, really simply, captures the enormous statistic.

This was the result below. While not part of Gallereplay's campaign selection, it has been submitted to the UN for further use in their marketing.

The second statistic, was one I was in two minds about for a while. After deciding on the drop as my 'main' submission, the concept for this statistic sat in the back of my head for a bit, and I thought I'd just do it anyway so that I follow through on doing two submissions.

Firstly, the statistic said: "20% of the world's aquifers are being over-exploited, leading to permanent damage of those natural resources".

With this concept, once again I wanted to keep it simple, as the statistic was so broad, and I didn't think that a shot of a localised natural water resource would really capture the gravity of such a frightening statistic.

So my concept was to present five water glasses, all with some level of activity. To keep things simple, I opted for the use of a straw, just like a child would play with their glass of water and straw. Each of the glasses had a unique activity, as I didn't want to create a copy-and-paste effect over four glasses with activity, and I wanted unique action in each glass to represent a whole host of different human activities that lead to over exploitation of our resources.

The final glass on the right is empty, portraying the over-exploited resources and aquifers, but I also wanted to keep its straw moving to show that the activity doesn't stop there, and across the board, humans are continually pushing their exploitation too far.

Finally, I also wanted the image to be quite moody, contrasty and desaturated, to add to the intensity of how much of a drastic effect we are all having on the planet.

Here is the resulting cinemagraph.

From a cinemagraph point of view, this one is possibly one of the most unique cinemagraphs that I've created. I've done previous ones where there were two loops in the shot, each looping perpetually and perfectly, but FIVE? Five proved to be a difficult one to accomplish but, having never been someone to let a cinemagraph scare me off, managed to break it in and put it to work.

It's really cool to see how cinemagraphs are increasingly being used to raise awareness and communicate to large audiences, and being part of a project for the UN, for such an important issue, is certainly really rewarding as an artist.

Memories

With the power of cinemagraphs, I believe that it's a very emotive and engaging tool with the power to shed light on some important, or even difficult situations in life.

I took on a personal project recently, out of curiosity at first, which then turned into something of a passion project, and I really wanted to bring it forward through the power of cinemagraphs. Perhaps even for the first time for this medium...

As we get older, our lives become much more of a rich tapestry of the best memories that we've had with friends and family, and those memories are the only true possessions that we carry forward with us into the future, giving us the foundations of who we are and the lives that we've lived.

My wife and I recently visited her great aunt and uncle. Something we seem to be doing more and more as we've grown closer to them, and since they never had any children, they also don't have any grandchildren, which I guess we seem to have become to them in a way.

Both our great aunt and uncle have lived really long and rich lives. Uncle Ernie is 91 years old, and Aunty Yuri is 89; they've been married for 65 years, both accomplished scientists having always had a keen interest in how things work in the world. They also travelled well, taking frequent trips to Europe in their younger years to explore the many European cities and they particularly enjoyed going hiking in the Alps. 

Together, they have lived a life full of great friendships, as well as relationships with extended family, but as the years go on their visits have declined more and more, along with their energy.

Over the past 10 years Aunty Yuri has developed dementia and has slowly started to lose her ability to retain short term memory, or even hold a thorough conversation - often repeating the same statement or question within a few minutes.

When I first met them around eight years ago, Aunty Yuri was still able to hold a conversation with me, and was able to tell me stories of her younger days, so I've seen firsthand how the dementia has slowly eaten away at her personality, which is truly heartbreaking. Having a conversation with Aunty Yuri now is quite sad at times, as it's almost like holding a conversation with a past version of herself.

"What sort of things do you like to do, Aunty Yuri?" 

"Oh, I like to go out a bit, and I do like to paint. I have a friend who comes over, and we often enjoy painting together".

Sadly, Aunty Yuri hasn't actually painted in about 20 years or so.

Having only met her about eight years ago, after the dementia had started its onset, I don't even know if she truly remembers me anymore, or merely politely pretends that she does, rather than wanting to look unsure. Perhaps she only knows me now by association with my wife, but wouldn't remember me if I were to visit on my own. Despite having been born in Japan, Aunty Yuri mostly grew up and lived in England, and she is ever the English lady when it comes to propriety and politeness.

Unfortunately this isn't my first encounter with dementia, as I've also lost both my own uncle and grandfather to Alzheimer's, and this first hand account of seeing the deterioration of someone's mental well-being has once again been difficult to observe.

For that reason, I wanted to use my skills with cinemagraphs to shed some light on the humble lives of this lovely couple, and perhaps keep something of their time together alive through my work.

The first cinemagraph, at the top of this post, is a shot that I captured of Aunty Yuri and Uncle Ernie in their home, as Uncle Ernie is looking through their wedding photos. Aunty Yuri is seated in her favourite seat in the front room, where they receive their guests.

In this shot, I wanted to show the contrast of Uncle Ernie going through the photos, and reliving the memories almost as if Aunty Yuri wasn't with him. She can remember the old days, but not hold a long conversation, so Uncle Ernie is often left with his own memories.

This shot was intended to be symbolic of dementia's effect on people's lives. Uncle Ernie is sitting in the light, still strong of mind, while the light barely touches Aunty Yuri and she's illuminated in an almost moonlight-type fashion, enjoying less of the light and the colour of life. Though both present, life is a completely different experience for Uncle Ernie and Aunty Yuri respectively.

As cinemagraphs, I wanted these images to also show Uncle Ernie as the one who's moving, breathing and looking at the album, while Aunty Yuri remains still, locked in - like the effect dementia can have on someone. The Clear distance between them on the sofa is also a sign of how even Uncle Ernie misses being able to hold conversations with his lovely wife, and realises the clear distance between him and his wife.

Uncle Ernie and Aunty Yuri have lived in this house since the 1970s, and bought it right off the plans, saw it get built and have lived here ever since.

Uncle Ernie is the keeper of the house. He still cares for Aunty Yuri and himself while he can, but is aware that there might come a day when they might need to consider a nursing home for either of them, or both. In the meantime, however, he arranges all their affairs, cooks and makes tea, and ensures Aunty Yuri gets dressed properly, gets to bed at a good time, and takes her medication.

Uncle Ernie used to be an avid photographer, and is keen to show me the remaining bits of his darkroom setup that he had built himself in years long gone by, and he even had a near-mint Silvestri large format film camera that he was eager to show me, but one that he'd not used in so long that parts of its functioning now eludes his memory. He had given up his serious pursuit of photography a few years ago already, along with his photographic club memberships, but still remains an avid reader of photography magazines, like the frequent issues by the Royal Photographic Society. But do not mistake his 91 years for technological ignorance! He also enjoys reading up on digital photography, and now and then pulls out his prosumer digital camera for birthday snaps or some shots of his beautifully kept garden. To top it all, he's in the process of acquiring a new computer to upgrade from his old one, with which he not only uses Google or email, but sometimes plays around with his photography software.

Aunty Yuri has always enjoyed the outdoors, though she's too frail to go for walks anymore, but besides enjoying the views of her garden, she's also a keen reader of Country Life.

Tea time happens regularly in their household, during the morning and the afternoon, and Uncle Ernie is always making the brew in the kitchen, like he does most other things around the house. He'd assumed most household activities after he found Aunty Yuri one morning in the kitchen, waiting for the electric kettle to boil on the gas stove. Funny as he might tell the story, he also realises the risks involved with his wife's dementia, and consequently does everything in the kitchen now.

Staying in the kitchen, Uncle Ernie also relies heavily on his trusty old weight scale, which was a wedding present 65 years ago and has served them well ever since. He weighs a lot of the obvious things one would expect to be weighed, but also weighs their food.

"I like to make sure that we're getting our portions in. So when I cook, I weigh everything, including our pea portions. Hmm." He'd say with a slight, but assertive, smile. Uncle Ernie is assured in his ways, and he has always had a habit of finishing his sentences with an assertive "hmmm", as if to acknowledge, if only to himself, that he's confident in what he's saying.

When it comes to entertainment, Uncle Ernie and Aunty Yuri don't have dinner parties anymore, but they do like to go out for dinner. A well-visited local haunt of theirs is a fantastic Italian restaurant, called Trattoria di Carlo (or Carlo's as they call it), which they frequent at least twice a week, and Uncle Ernie is usually very happy to have guests join them for dinner and a glass of Chianti wine. They've been going there for 8 years or so, so Aunty Yuri does remember the restaurant, and the owner Carlo, but not much more.

"What's your favourite meal on the menu, Aunty Yuri?"

"I like all sorts, really. I like a bit of fish, or prawns, or some pasta, but I don't really have a favourite". And with that, she leaves the meal choices to Uncle Ernie, who always orders the same starters for himself and Aunty Yuri, although he does choose something different every time they go.

Back home, they watch TV from time to time, and when Uncle Ernie sees me, he'd keenly ask if I'm keeping an eye on the rugby or cricket. They also enjoy a bit of classical music, and Uncle Ernie was happy to bring the old record player into action for our shoot, although he hadn't used it in a few years.

"All of the music we have on record, we also have on compact disk now", boasting a selection of CDs much larger than his record collection. "My speakers on the record player are still really good, and the record quality is very good as well, but it's just so much easier to play a compact disk".

Always wanting to keep Aunty Yuri in the conversation, we always try to include her with some questions, so as to not only be talking to Uncle Ernie.

"What's your favourite music, Aunty Yuri?"

"Oh, I suppose I quite like a bit of classical music."

"Who's your favourite composer, or what's your favourite piece of classical music?"

"Well, I like them all really. There's not one I like more or less than another, I like a mix of everything equally. I suppose, sometimes I might prefer to listen to once piece over another, but I don't have any particular favourite".

And with that, the music conversation is brought back to the raw realisation that Aunty Yuri, perhaps, doesn't really recall her favourite composer or most beloved symphony, but is caught in the uncertainty of what she might feel is the right answer, but not have the confidence in memory to support.

My take away from this visit, as it seems to be increasingly so with every visit to Uncle Ernie and Aunty Yuri, is to perhaps hold those you love close to you and cherish each and every beautiful moment.

For as Dr Seuss once said, "“Sometimes you will never know the value of something, until it becomes a memory.”