Method

At the end of 2016, 15 disposable cameras were given out to people living in Paris’s newly opened Porte de la Chapelle camp with the aim of diversifying the perspective with which this issue is covered.

Each participant chose a pack containing:

  • A set of instructions in Arabic, Pashto, Farsi, English or French (if none of these were appropriate a camp translator was called)
  • A camera
  • 2 blank postcards
  • A pen

The instructions explained that the camera was a tool to share their view with the public and should be returned to the distribution desk within 7 days. The postcards were for a written message they wanted the world to hear which could be in any language they chose.

Everyone involved provided their name, age, country of origin and, where possible, a way to contact them should the camera not be returned. They were given the project’s email address and the distributors’ Facebook details to be able to contact us if anything went wrong.

The major difficultly with conducting a project like this in an impermanent population was the uncertainty everybody involved had over their length of stay in the camp – though all were entitled to 10 days, many were transferred to other facilities after just one or two with only a few hours warning. The loss of cameras to these unexpected transitions tells as much of a story as the photos returned, the difficulty of building any kind of constancy thrown into sharp relief when such a simple activity is made impossible.

The exhibition will include materials from this process as well as anonymised screenshots of messages explaining why people were unable to complete the exercise. These range from the amusing, one participant admits his friend simply dropped the camera in the river, to deeply saddening, another member of the project explaining his pack was taken during a violent police raid.

Each camera was numbered so as to be matched back to the photographer and the first photo on every roll is a portrait of the participant, taken by the distributor.

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