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I’ve just arrived at Format Photography Festival and Pete Brook (aka Prison Photography) is manhandling me.

I don’t mind. I’ve known Pete online for many years but this is the first time I’ve met the big bearded dude. Bear hugs are permitted.

After crushing me we tour the book fair.

He wants to know what I think about a project.

Immo Refugee which in the words of Colin Pantall  ‘is a documentation of the Jungle Shacks in Calais (which have now been flattened). It’s by Maria Ghetti and Marco Tiberio who are part of DEFROST studio.’

After flicking through the publication I don’t know what to think.

I get the point. Or maybe I don’t.

I’m genuinely frustrated by the lack of recognisable faces when photography talks about refugees and asylum seekers. It’s a negative reaction based on the fact I’m a volunteer English teacher of refugees/asylum seekers in Birmingham. Most of my crew have come via Calais. They have lives in those shacks. They are an open bunch and they’re happy to be photographed. This publication doesn’t close that gap.

As I explain all this to Pete I start to become acutely aware that the guy who painstakingly, with thought and intent and care and concern, put this together, is standing less than two metres  from me. I’m probably talking loud enough that he can hear me. Probably.

But I don’t bother to engage with him. Just place the prospectus back and walk away.

Later I feel sad about this.

In the courtyard of one of Format’s venues Defrost have erected a tent with a for sale sign. I dig this. I even try and break in.  It’s actually a poignant reminder of the journeys some of the refugees I teach have come on. I realise they would appreciate this project.

I was ignorant to judge the work for what it cannot do. For what it never claims to be. Let’s talk about what’s there. And why. With the guy. Benjamin, for fuck’s sake get over yourself, he’s just standing there.

After my post last week about Format festival an old friend writes to me:

Just read your Photo Festival piece. Went there last year to get my work reviewed. Loneliest day of the year – the low-light was when I showed my work at the hour long walk through session at the end of the day and not one person stopped to even look. Fact!!! Anyway when are we meeting up for a curry and a film?

Jeez. We can be ass-holes can’t we. Without even meaning to be. We can hurt people.  I need to remember that.

To Marco and Mario. I’m really sorry. I should have taken the time, but I didn’t and I regret that. You did a great thing. And if you’re ever in Brum and have a couple of hours on a Monday afternoon, please come and share your work with my class. Afterwards the beer and curry are on me.

To everyone else. That boy, that girl. That person with the book open.  We’ve all been them. Don’t be me. A little encouragement. Please.

  • twentyyearslater

    Problem is the Dublin agreement and the Border Agency. Yes, most refugees are happy to be photographed, some actively seek out photographers in the hope that some compassion will be enacted from somewhere, in someone.

    However there is very little knowledge or understanding of the hoops and hurdles required to claim asylum. Why would there be? If the zealous officials of the BA decide an applicant has been living in, say, France, by looking through websites and blogs and Facebook pages featuring the Calais or Dunkirk ‘jungles’, then the applicant can be deported. Lots of examples of this. Lots. And it happens so fast that person is gone before you have a chance to check on their safety or whereabouts.

    Even at a much later stage, when asylum seeker status has been achieved, if the BA decides on the basis of even tiny bits of evidence that information given in one lengthy interview is different to the evidence taken in another, the application fails. These tiny bits of evidence include photographs culled from any sources. Be very careful of this when working with your group. Even local press exposure can endanger lives.

    Of course the liberal media, most of us, wants to see faces. But beware inadvertently endangering the future of those who you would wish to help. It is all too common. Well meaning volunteers and activists costing lives – when have we seen this? Many times.

    (Second comment in a week. Goodness. Come for a cuppa next time you’re nearby.)

  • If one is “a critic” of any sort, it doesn’t take long to realize what an ass hat anyone can be- particularly the guy staring back in the mirror.

    Recognizing that is a good sign, particularly in an age where one can become president for reveling in the ignorance of being the biggest ass hat around.