Remembering the Jungle: What refugees left behind

Toothbrushes from refugee camp. Pic: Elijah Kong

Photographer, Gideon Mendel created the powerful piece ‘Dzhangal’, after visiting the Calais ‘Jungle’ to teach photography.

Mendel told Eastlondonlines that he quickly realised many people living in the camp had much more pressing issues to focus on other than photography classes. They were also suspicious towards cameras, which is when he switched his attention to the items left on the ground.

He said: “There were so many photographers there. So many people coming in, so many different projects, often well meaning – but I’m not sure very effective.”

He related what happened when he tried to photograph one particular refugee, from Eritrea, “He said ‘You come here and you take our picture and you tell us it’s going to help us and make a difference, but the only person who helps is you. We tell our stories to you over and over again and everything just stays the same.’ He was expressing a commonly felt hostility towards the camera that a lot of people felt. “

Mendel said he realised that some people did not want to be photographed because they feared it would jeopardise asylum applications.

“I just thought the last thing I want to do is take any more photographs here myself, but I also felt this urge to have a creative response. So I just started collecting stuff.”

His collection includes a wide variety of items left behind when the camp was demolished last October such as tear gas canisters, some from confrontations with police, sleeping bags, children’s toys and burnt clothes from fires started by candles used for light. The items were chosen to both humanise and highlight the plight of the many refugees who once lived there.

Dzhangal, a Pashto word meaning ‘this is the forest’ (or jungle) is on at the Autograph ABP gallery in Rivington Place Shoreditch, until February 11. The gallery is open 11am – 6pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, with a late night until 9pm on Thursdays. Saturday opening hours are 12pm – 6pm. Autograph is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

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