Last week I travelled to Dunkirk with Just Shelter as they delivered donations to various charities based in Northern France. One of the things Just Shelter aims to do is bring some light relief to refugees, whatever their age. On this recent visit, they were joined by Wandsworth-based musician Jake Rodrigues and artist/art teacher Emily Gopaul as well as another teacher, Rosie Gowers. Children temporarily living in a sports hall during the winter months (after pressure was put on on authorities due to extremely low temperatures) had so much fun and then afterwards Jake refereed a football match as only he could. The sports hall, albeit far from ideal, at least keeps people dry and warm but is due to close very soon. As always, thanks to all the people who shared their stories with us.
Click on the 4-minute video below to get a sense of the sort of activities Just Shelter organises or view the photo-essay below. If anyone local to Just Shelter feels they have something practical and positive to offer do get in touch with them for more information or follow them on Facebook.
Quite a few people have recently asked me when I am going to offer phone photography sessions again, having done so in the past. I’m a big believer in the phone camera. Image quality is getting better with each new product launch and since most of us use them regularly to take pictures for social media and sharing snaps with friends and family, why not learn some basics? There are some really simple things you can do to make sure your phone pictures look good, and since I think photography is for everyone I want to share some of that with you. Sending a photograph is a wonderful way to communicate a feeling, an experience, say hi, or just remind someone you’re thinking about them. And for those of you with a bit, or a lot, of artistic flair, there are so many apps nowadays which allow you to have fun, play and create mini-masterpieces of your very own. Come and find out more!
I’m offering a series of sessions for adults and separate dates for children over the summer months starting with one on Friday 20th April at 6pm for grown-ups, meeting at a venue in Wandsworth, SW18 which will be confirmed via email after booking. The sun will be setting at about 8pm by that time of year so we’ll have some lovely light to work with.
Sessions cost £18 per adult and will last roughly an hour and a half.
Please get in touch via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook. You can also give me a call on 07581694934. Numbers will be limited so don’t leave it too late to book.
I’ll release a date for a session geared towards younger people very soon.
I have also been taking bookings for one-to-one sessions for people with DSLR’s who want to get to get to grips with some basic photography tips, so if that’s more your thing do get in touch for further information.
Here are a handful of images I’ve taken of or with my kids on my phone in recent years.
Last Saturday I travelled to Dunkirk once again with local charity, Just Shelter. As we drove into the wooded open spaces behind an out of town consumer village, which always reminds me of something from a J.G. Ballard novel, we saw an elderly man limping in front of us. He carried a small assortment of possessions, blankets perhaps, and his ill-fitting coat was barely wrapped around him despite the desperately cold and wet February weather. He noticed the car and moved over to the side of the road, and as we passed he thanked us for our patience as we had slowed down for him.
We parked and shortly afterwards one of the Just Shelter leaders went over to another group, a team of volunteers from Holland delivering food and blankets, so she could discuss distributing alongside them. The man we’d seen arrived at the same time and according to my colleague, the kindness of the strangers he met prompted him to break down and sob. He was in pain, hungry and cold. Exhausted. He’d only just reached the location, with nothing except the support of his son. They had no tent or any of the items people who have been there a little longer manage to keep hold of. I say manage because often the police visit and destroy or confiscate everything. Volunteers hand out coats, blankets, and tents and then the police come along a few days later and tear it all down. All that any of us could do for the elderly man was offer him a handful of paracetamol and a single meal handed out by the Dutch volunteers. There were no tents left on the shelves of the local shops and as we were leaving later that day the man was sitting under a tarpaulin in the rain waiting for something or someone because he had come as far as he could go. (continued below)
We were able to move him to a more sheltered space and alert a visiting medical team who went to see what they could do to help. We also asked one of our contacts working in France to find him and his son a tent so he could at least get out of the rain.
I can’t stop thinking about that man, who in the last years of his life felt that living in the country he thought of as home was so dire, it would be worth the momentous and risky journey across Europe in search of safety; a better existence. And while I have no idea where he’ll end up, it seems desperately wrong that Europe should do so little to help him and all the other people who have made the same decision.
One of Just Shelter’s aims is making sure we don’t forget the many, many people living without basic amenities all over Europe, as they flee countries which have become untenable for a number of reasons. At a time when here in the UK we are faced with difficult news on a daily basis, which alarms us and makes us angry about how people in this country are being treated, it is not always easy to find ways to keep this story alive. Understandably, many people are worried about homelessness in the UK, or the fact that workers are being fined for taking sick days and dying as they try to avoid punitive measures. Or how a system has evolved which allows companies to make vast profits while the people working for them sit on pavements in all weathers, often unpaid, until they deliver our pizzas and curries, and with no workplace benefits whatsoever. We are horrified by stories about claims being stopped when people fail to turn up for interviews because they are in hospital. Across the political divide, we are angry that many of our politicians seem so disconnected from the reality of our lives. Thinking about people from other countries when we have so many issues to think about here can seem like too much. But there is a strong argument to suggest all of these things are connected in some way. And perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear, I do not believe refugees are to blame for the world’s ills. (continued below)
The dejected man I saw in Dunkirk reminded me a little of my late father. His life was obviously very different but he too was broken during the latter years of his life. However, he could get out of the rain. He could sit in front of the TV and escape a depressing reality with his favourite soap operas. He could drink and eat what he liked and he could go to bed under a roof with central heating warming up his rather dilapidated flat. These things are such basic requirements and no-one in Europe regardless of how they arrived here should be without a roof. I am well aware that people here in the UK are struggling to pay for heating, but again, it isn’t any refugee’s fault. The man we saw in Dunkirk is not just a story on your social media feed. He’s far more than a collection of pixels. He’s real. He’s a person. And he’s somebody’s father, grandfather, somebody’s loved one. And he’s old and living on the ground behind a supermarket car park.
If anyone is interested in helping Just Shelter either practically or with donations, please get in touch via their Facebook page.
This has been by far the busiest year I’ve had since setting up as a photographer. One of the lessons I’ve had to learn and am still learning is how best to manage my time as I navigate parenting, studies, and social as well as commercial photography. It’s a good problem to have though!
I’ve been extremely pleased to carry on working alongside local charitable organisation Just Shelter throughout 2017 and will continue documenting their trips and the situation in Northern France in 2018. Long- and short-term volunteers I meet are involved in a number of projects devoting their time and energy to a range of causes both here and abroad. At a time when we see so much extraordinary violence both online and in the physical world it is great to be reminded there is also a lot of genuine goodness and kindness out there too.
Workwise, I was pleased to photograph teams in highly recognisable companies, such as Barclays, as well as several other groups in the same sector; a few up and coming businesses that are doing exceptionally well such as Aurelia Skincare; and lots of self-employed people after professional headshots. I was also very pleased to be made a Preferred Supplier for British Land and am looking forward to working with them again.
I was lucky enough to exhibit my work twice this year. The first time was at The Grosvenor Arms, now sadly closed down. I am grateful to Brendan Conway for his support and encouragement and wish him the best. The second show was Oxford House, Nexus, when I was invited by Keith Greenough to work alongside him and John Umney on a project celebrating Oxford House’s history. Thanks to Honor who I captured for the project and to everyone who supported me.
I continue studying, which keeps me from resting on my laurels. I was very glad to receive over 70% for the academic module I finished earlier this year as it was incredibly challenging. I absolutely loved that course, despite its difficulty – and have moved onto a new module where I continue to be challenged.
And of course, I photographed my children constantly. I’m about to put an album together recording our lives – I’ll certainly have lots and lots to choose from, as always.
Do see my website for details if you’re after photography for work or family, or follow me on Instagram to keep up with my visual sketchbook. And if you live in or visit South London, perhaps I will photograph you during 2018 at one of the community events I usually get along to – you never know! Here is a very small handful of images I took in 2017.
Writing about the state of education today, Julian Astle*, of the Royal Society of the Arts, expressed himself so eloquently that I start by quoting his words alongside the latest series of images taken during Just Shelter’s recent trip.
“The root causes of the West’s culture wars are many and complex. But chief among them is the fact we live on a dangerously overheating and ever more densely populated planet where conflict and persecution, flooding and drought and vast inequalities of opportunity and wealth have displaced 65 million people and created a migrant population greater than that of Brazil. Amid the backlash to this unprecedented movement of people from poorer to richer nations, liberalism is in full retreat, while nationalism, nativism and protectionism are all on the rise. And with an angry populist politics on the Right feeding off, and feeding, an intolerant and censorious strain of identity politics on the Left, our ability to transcend our hardwired instinct to tribalism — to put our shared humanity before our group loyalties — is once again being severely tested.” (2017) (Bold lettering mine.)
These photographs show the area in Dunkirk which Just Shelter has been visiting to deliver donations for the last few months. They include an image of a man who said he was beaten by the police who, according to reports, regularly tear down and destroy tents, confiscate belongings and attempt to move people on. He is not the first person to show me such injuries. As we drive to the woods after disembarking from the ferry, we pass several groups of people in and around the area. There are an estimated 1000 people living rough in Calais and Dunkirk according to Care4Calais**. Each time I’ve travelled with Just Shelter I have met people who have lived in the area for over a year, several months and some who have only just arrived.
If you are interested in supporting Just Shelter you can find out how here.
On Friday evening I was lucky enough to open a collaborative exhibition with fellow photographers John Umney and Keith Greenough in Bethnal Green. The work was collectively titled Oxford House, Nexus and features work by all three of us. My series of images was also a collaboration within the overall project, as I worked with a super young woman called Honor.
Yesterday, as I narrated my story about how I had, several years ago, dreamed of having some work up on a gallery wall which at the time seemed rather like a pipe dream, the woman I was telling welled up. She said it was lovely to hear from someone achieving something. My work has been interpreted by another friend as being all about achievement, and since the venue, Oxford House is linked through its history to Keble College, Oxford University, and to uplifting the lives of the people it serves, I suspect she is on to something.
The venue is a valuable part of its community, and therefore of London. Sales from the exhibition will be added to funds earmarked for the refurbishment of this important historic site. I hope that if you find yourself in the vicinity you can spare some time to visit, and perhaps even make a purchase.
Should anyone be looking for something interesting and original to hang on their walls, here are the details you’ll need:
Please contact Keith Greenough by emailing or by mobile:
This morning I read a newspaper headline which suggested it is a delusion to think we are a kind society, and sadly, it does feel more and more difficult to disagree with that sentiment, even if you don’t buy into the writer’s arguments. It doesn’t take long to find examples of behaviour exhibiting an utter lack of empathy; political rhetoric, responses beneath online newspaper articles, or comments on Twitter, for instance, which often demonstrate a callousness that never fails to stun. However, I am able to take comfort from spending time with people who are doing whatever they can, no matter how small it might seem, to contribute positive and empathetic actions in a world that appears increasingly un-empathetic and indifferent to the suffering of others. We may indeed be an unkind society but there are plenty of kind-hearted people from all walks of life out there, including those with virtually nothing to offer.
When I go with Just Shelterto Dunkirk, I am very lucky to be given the freedom to go off and speak with people as I collect stories, and images where possible, from men and women who tell me what it is like to be living in fields, behind supermarkets and next to motorways. I want to repeat some of the reports but I am in two minds about this. I can’t corroborate anything. I’m not a journalist and although I spend what time I can documenting the situation, verifying what I hear would demand resources I don’t have. I am also very aware that few believe much of what they read online anyway. Nevertheless, despite living in an era of intense cynicism, I know that the empathetic amongst you would be appalled by what I am told in Dunkirk.
I am also wary of revealing details about people that would put them in danger. But we need to consider our responsibility as we allow this situation to exist, without proper facilities and processes in place. And so I will write carefully about the reports of police intimidation, of brutality, bribery, extortion. I will describe a man who wanted shoes and a sleeping bag, and whose broken fingers were causing him such pain. Fingers reportedly crushed by police officers forcing him to register in one country when he was desperate go to another, for reasons that we can’t fully understand and therefore can’t make judgments about. Because we don’t know what it’s like to be forced to flee, leave behind jobs, loved ones, our own history, citizenship. I will let you know that traffickers were referred to as ‘the mafia’ by everybody I spoke with; their presence in the camp engenders such fear and suspicion. Or that it reportedly costs €5000 per person to pay someone to smuggle you across the Channel without guarantee of success, and €10 000 if you want to be sure of arriving in the UK. Or that there are rumours of collusion and dodgy deals between various authorities. Or that the police routinely visit the area with knives to destroy and cut down tents, batons to beat people, and dogs to terrify them. ‘Residents’ often mention the aggressive dogs. These are things I have been told about by numerous people specifically during my previous two visits. While in the makeshift camp during the last two journeys I met a barber, an estate agent, a lawyer, a chauffeur, a mechanic, someone who told me he worked with CNN. I met a father of young children, two girls and one boy, whose right arm was horribly bent and disfigured. He told me it had been being broken when he was tortured back home, and not set properly before healing. I met someone fleeing his government, persecuted for his work with human rights. I had philosophical discussions about the meaning of borders, religion and some of our innate animalistic traits. A few of the people I spoke with were in the camp the last time I was there, and one family in particular, I had met in the Dunkirk camp which burnt down earlier this year. Many were new though, fleeing horrors and desperation we in the West can only imagine.
I have been travelling to the area in Northern France since the end of 2015 and it has always seemed hopeless and shocking. But this latest visit somehow seemed more so than ever. We had just a few pair of shoes to hand out, and the sense of panic as our small stock ran low was palpable and frightening at times. The people there really have so little and what is given to them is often taken away by the police soon after, so must be given again. And critically they have no-where to go or to be. No-where. No-one wants them. Many cannot go home. In some cases there is no home to go to. Or it is too dangerous.
I know as I write this that there will be readers who don’t believe any of it, who believe it but say, so what? Or who think, ‘not my problem… we have our own issues.” There are also those who will be appalled and horrified. We humans are difficult creatures. We are frightened and suspicious, some of us damaged beyond repair, some of us sadly born with little hope of ever being able to cope in life, perhaps due to genetics, perhaps to circumstances. There is something very strange going on in our world at the moment, and the sort of damage I’m describing, which negates or impinges on empathy for others, seems to be driving economic, political and social agendas in many parts of the world, including our own, leading to world that does seem extremely unkind. And yes, we do have plenty of problems to solve here in the UK too. But dehumanising desperate people who live on our doorstep without ensuring even the most basic of human needs are met, and in effect therefore dehumanising ourselves, will not help us find workable solutions. Surely it will only compound problems in the future.
To those of you who want to know how it is possible to contribute, no matter how insignificant you think it may be (it isn’t incidentally), you can do so by supporting Just Shelteror any one of their associates. To borrow a phrase, “If you’re not doing something to address the problem, you’re part of the problem.”
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.
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.
After our visit to the supermarket we return to the camp and hand out parcels as well provide activities for the children.
Paradise Co-Op held another amazing and fantastically organised fete on Saturday. You may recall I photographed the previous one two years ago. In between doing plenty of other things during a super-busy weekend, I popped by to record some moments for them. I was so glad I did and also pleased to see the rain didn’t stop anyone from enjoying themselves. By the time I left the sun was shining and people were still having a brilliant time. Here are a few shots from my time there. All images (c)SJField 2017
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
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.
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)