Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
This month we spoke to Alice Myers, an artist who recently travelled to camps in Calais to meet and photograph refugees and migrants. The resulting project is called ‘Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun‘ and some of the photos from this project were recently published in a book of the same name. This is the second in a new series of monthly interviews with people in Scotland (and beyond), who are working on, or affected by, issues related to migration and asylum.
Can you tell us a bit about your project ‘Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun?’
The project brings together drawings, found photographs, writing, transcripts of conversations and negotiated portraits gathered over two years working with refugees and migrants in Calais, between 2012 and 2014. The title is from an Arabic proverb. The project rejects the satisfying and logical narrative so often demanded of refugees, presenting a complex picture of the situation for those without papers in Europe, while questioning the role of photography in border spaces. My role as photographer and author is also called into question.
What motivated you to travel to Calais and photograph the environment and people you found there?
Initially I was interested in the narratives and significances that people apply to landscape and the extent to which this can be photographed. I’d done some work on the US/Mexico border, which has shifted so many times throughout its history, and I was interested in how the border between the UK and France can exist in the middle of the sea. I was also interested in how the porosity of the border could be different for different people. However, as the project progressed I became more interested in using photography as a starting point for interaction, and in the dynamics of those interactions. It can be far more problematic to work with people and I wanted that difficulty to be part of the project.
How were the people you met in Calais involved in the project?
ome people I met only once and had a quite fleeting exchange with them, but many people I saw repeatedly and some people I worked with throughout the two years. In each case people could choose if/how they wanted to be involved and I was very open to whatever people wanted to share. This included writing, drawing, recording a conversation with me, working with me to make a portrait, sharing personal photographs, and working with me to make short videos. Many people wanted their portraits taken and this often began an exchange where I would give them prints and discuss the prints with people. I didn’t use these images in the project but it was an important part of the process.
Have you been able to keep in touch with some of the people you met? Are their circumstances the same or have they managed to leave the camp(s)?
I’m in touch with some people who are still in Calais. They gave up trying to cross long ago and when I met them they were applying for asylum there. Two of them now have permission to stay and have housing in Calais. I’m in touch on Facebook with quite a few people but I only see one regularly. He lives in Newcastle with his wife and children and has refugee status.
You’ve said before that a camera can be a good starting point for interaction – in what way did you find this to be the case in Calais?
I guess whenever somebody photographs another person, it’s an interaction, and like any interaction it takes place within existing power dynamics, which can be upheld or challenged or changed by that interaction. The exchange surrounding the taking of a photograph has a weight, and that is interesting and important even if it can’t be seen.
But in a much more straightforward way, the camera was just a good excuse to enter a situation where I was an outsider and open up unpredictable interactions. For example, photographing people and discussing the prints with them, or sharing photographs of home with each other on our phones, or negotiating ways to take portraits without revealing people’s identities. Sometimes I would just be filming something on my own and people would come and get involved. In that way the camera became a kind of event or an opening for other things to happen.
We are really grateful to Alice for providing such an insightful and informative interview. Is there someone you know, or have heard of, that you think would make for an interesting interview? Let us know using the form below!