“This wasn’t about portraying the Jungle itself but about the problem that continues to be unresolved, the displacement of these people,” says London-based photographer Alex Franco of his photo series Remember Me When I’m Gone documenting the people at the heart of the refugee crisis.
Charities say there are were around 9,100 refugees in Calais’ Jungle migrant camp before it was cleared earlier this year. People who left behind everything and travelled thousands of miles to flee conflict and persecution back home now find themselves displaced and desperate. Concerned with the politics, ethics and unfair media representation that surrounded these refugees, Franco travelled to the camp in an attempt to reveal an authentic picture of the migrant crisis – and as an antidote to the sensationalist and alarmist tabloid headlines.
Spanning multiple trips to the refugee and migrant base in Northern France between January 2015 and October 2016, this week Franco presents his poignant photo series in a new show at Huntingdon Estate – the exhibition will be held in collaboration with Help Refugees and all proceeds from the sales of prints will go to the charity.
At the core of the project hides the photographer’s curiosity and concern for the issue from a profoundly personal standpoint. Having grown up hearing stories of Moroccan migrants traveling to Spain, he wanted to explore the issues surrounding status, safety and human rights.
The fly-on-the-wall style stills come alongside a handwritten account of Alex’s encounters with the residents of the encampment, an element that extends his objective to question the future of the former residents of the Jungle.
“Many people continue their journey with blind hope, seeking not only peace from conflict and a place they can call home but a chance to integrate themselves back into a community where they can rebuild themselves.”
Undine Markus: How did your collaboration with Help Refugees first begin?
Alex Franco: I hadn’t collaborated with them before. I decided to donate the sales of my artwork to them because I feel they are one of the few NGOs taking control of the refugee crisis in Europe.
Undine: Are there any aspects that you believe have been particularly disregarded that you are trying to draw attention to with the project?
Alex: Before the Jungle, there was always a refugee crisis building and – despite it being demolished – the problem remains unresolved. Many people continue their journey with blind hope, seeking not only peace from conflict and a place they can call home but a chance to integrate themselves back into a community where they can rebuild themselves.
Undine: Can you take us through the timeline of the project?
Alex: I first met Abigail Gallagher, the writer who I started to go to the Jungle with, at Shakespeare and Co. in Paris in September 2015. Our conversation triggered the idea of going to the Jungle in Calais. It has always hit close to home and by getting to go deeper I was able to share my point of view. Basically, my interest developed when I was young and growing up in Spain as there have always been immigrants crossing over from Morocco. These people’s tales stuck with me and the need to develop my point of view by going there was a natural thing for me to do.
Undine: How did the people react to you as a photographer?
Alex: In general people were open to tell their stories and be photographed, they were excited to be part of a conversation and share their individual experiences. However, some preferred not to share. When the Jungle demolition became official many residents turned against the media because they lost hope.
“When the Jungle demolition became official many residents turned against the media because they lost hope.”
Undine: What did you find to be the most challenging aspects of the project?
Alex: To actually understand the magnitude of this problem.
Undine: In December, you will be exhibiting the photographs in Barcelona and London. Why did you choose those two particular cities?
Alex: Firstly, for me this wasn’t about portraying the Jungle itself but about the problem that continues to be unresolved, the displacement of these people. So showing my work at least a year after going in there was always about the message I wanted to share, hence the title Remember Me When I’m Gone. To some extent, I felt that those cities chose me. I had this body of work and one day I was given an opportunity to show it.
Undine: Are you planning on returning to the sites to create further instalments of the project?
Alex: Yes, I would like to keep extending this project, but you can probably tell by now that it doesn’t mean going back to Calais.
Undine: What are the additional ways in which the audience can extend the legacy of the project and continue initiating a discussion about the issue?
Alex: There needs to be a real change that supports the integration of these people back into community so that they can rebuild security in their lives. If our governments unite and take responsibility together, we can have hope for a real change. We need to keep putting the pressure on them to do so.
Remember Me When I’m Gone runs at Unit 10, Huntingdon Estate from 5th until 6th December.
Follow Alex Franco on Instagram.