Dzhangal is a new book by photographer Gideon Mendel, released to provide an alternative portrait of residents of the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, France. The photographs depict discarded items such as toothbrushes, playing cards, worn-out trainers, teargas canisters and children’s dolls.
Mendel travelled to Calais several times between May and October 2016, tasked with teaching photography to refugees as part of a collaborative documentary project. He discovered, however, that many of the camp’s residents were hostile towards the camera; fearing identification could undermine their asylum claims and lead to deportation.
They were sceptical that photography would help their situation and Mendel came to share their reservations, feeling that excessive photographic coverage was potentially more exploitative than helpful. Despite being a photographer over 30 years, he began to question whether photography was failing in the face of the enormity of the refugee crisis, reinforcing stereotypes about refugees and further stigmatising them.
Mendel’s response was to turn his attention to the lost objects on the ground of the camp to evoke the residents’ humanity through what was discarded. From the social disorder he derived structure by performing a type of contemporary 'ethno-archaeology'. Some objects evidenced the daily violence many experienced; others reflected the banality and domesticity of life at the camp, including the plight of women and children. Visible ingrained dirt and ashes allow the viewer to sense the refugees’ struggle to live ordinary lives under the most extraordinary circumstances.
The book coincides with an exhibition of large-scale photographs from the series, together with an installation of the found objects, on display at Autograph ABP, London, from 6 January – 11 February 2017. Discover more at GOST / Autograph.
Via Creative Boom submission | All images © Gideon Mendel / Courtesy of GOST