“To know hunger, work illegally, and be anonymous.” (Attributed to V I Lenin)

With thanks to all the photographers of the Displaces project

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On previous ‘participatory photography’ projects, we’d give people good compact cameras, and some practical and conceptual training. Then they’d return to their families, communities or neighbourhoods, and take pictures.

The results could be revelatory; expressive as well as documentary, giving insights into lives and identities which might not be apparent to a professional photojournalist.

But working in the Calais ‘Jungle’ challenged this process.

I’ve been working in the camp with Dr Marie Godin, from the University of Oxford’s International Migration Institute, on the ‘Displaces’ photo project.  We wanted to take a critical look at the use of participatory photography there.

We met people living in temporary conditions, in a place which they do NOT own – culturally, legally, socially or visually. The camp represents everything they want to escape from. Handing cameras to refugees and demanding they document their lives there, risked producing images reinforcing their sense of abjection.

Anonymous

This is compounded by not being able to show most people’s faces.

Those who want to come to the UK need to stay invisible.
They must not make any trace of their existence in Calais and risk compromising their asylum claim, if and when they get here.

So they often choose to anonymise themselves.

But anonymity is also part of their oppression, and is continually imposed. Those who want to keep them out of the UK de-humanise them as a ‘swarm’. Those who want to help get them into the UK also anonymise them, albeit with best intention.

Both are dispiriting and undermining. Rubbing out someone’s face does not feel good. Asking them to do it themselves is even worse. They have to turn themselves into non-people. Collude in their own oppression. A photo project makes it all very literal and obvious.

Pixellated pictures appear to criminalise refugees and the right to seek asylum.

Many participants were even more aware than us, of this problem of identity and representation. They responded in various ways, perhaps the most interesting being aspiration.

Aspiration

Citizens

In particular, people took pictures of themselves not as refugees but as individual citizens. Participants portrayed themselves as human beings (teachers, engineers, mothers and fathers, cousins) with aspirations to have a better life.

An engineer from Darfur keeps his suit hanging in his shelter.

Some photographed themselves standing outside bourgeois houses. One group posed in front of Rodin’s ‘The Burghers of Calais’ (a sculpture about self-sacrifice in the face of arbitrary power).

These photos were often taken not for the project, but for their families back home, with no attempt to hide themselves. I find these bland touristic photos more interesting and telling than the images taken in the camp.
But how can they be shared more widely?

I’ve anonymised this set of ‘aspirational’ images using a different cultural, visual code; by ‘ghosting’ whole bodies, not just pixillating faces. I hope the results question the way settled citizens ignore or look right through refugees – without criminalising or victimising them.

 

Home Lives of the Donkey People

Donkey owners – problem or solution?

Indian brick kiln donkeys

Itinerant donkey owners working in Gujarat’s brick kilns spend 24 hours a day with their donkeys. They live, work, play and abide together. The donkeys’ welfare is entirely in the people’s hands. So who are they, and how do they live alongside their animals? I hope these photographs from MA Ambapur kiln near Ahmedabad will help show how these two societies live together.

 

Animal traction

In the UK animal traction and haulage are things of the past – relegated to the heritage industry. In India draft animals play a key role in the modern economy. Aside from their use in agriculture, donkeys and mules are essential to the construction industry. The livelihoods of many thousands of marginalised families are reliant on the welfare and efficient functioning of their teams of donkeys and mules. These photo stories take a look at this industry.

 

Brick Story


India is experiencing a building boom to cope with its rapid urbanisation. Thousands of concrete-frame high rise blocks, with brick infill, can be seen rising up around Delhi and Mumbai. Almost every one of the millions of bricks involved has been transported by donkey or mule at the brick kilns where they are made. So how does it work?

Continue reading “Brick Story”

Bedrooms

Khesikala village 1 km from Faridabad KSN brick kiln near Delhi, India. 
Brick kiln carter Rohtas (24) with his two year old stallion horse at his stable in the village. It is unusual to see horses working in brick kilns.
 © Crispin Hughes

 

This is a male horse with his owner Rohtas. They work in a brick kiln. They both live in a house with plastered and painted walls and electric light.

 

Khesikala village 1 km from Faridabad KSN brick kiln near Delhi, India. 
The mule owners who work at the kiln are settled here in the village. The mules enjoy good stables and food here.
Vedpal (30) with his 2 year old mule at his stable in the village.
Modern India is built on the backs of donkeys and mules. © Crispin Hughes

 

This is a mule with his owner Vedpas. They also work at the brick kiln. The mule also has a nice bedroom, though not quite as nice as the horse’s bedroom.

 

Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Annar Devi and her family are cousins to Harish. They keep a buffalo and calf, a horse and goats in the stable and yard outside their house.

 

This is a buffalo with her owner Annar Devi. The buffalo has a bedroom, though its not painted, has no electric light and is open on one side. She has a sacking blanket to keep her warm.

 

Goat. Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

 

This is a goat, Somehow it seems to have got a plastered and painted bedroom.

 

Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Harish (19) owns five donkeys and works at the VIP brick kiln about ten kilometres from Madhupur village.

 

These are donkeys with their owner Harish. They all work in a brick kiln with Harish. They sleep outside in the rain. Harish puts their pack saddles on in the evening to keep them warm, and to stop the crows from pecking at the saddle wounds on their backs.

 

Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Harish (19) owns five donkeys and works at the VIP brick kiln about ten kilometres from Madhupur village.


Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Harish and his family.
Mahender, his father Daudayal, Luekush (12) and Harish in Mahender and Ruby’s beautiful bedroom.

 

This is the bedroom of Harish’s older brother Mahender – standing on the left. Mahender made a good marriage with a good dowry. The room is plastered and painted and has electricity.

 

Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Harish and his family.
Brothers Mahender, Harish and Luekush with their father Daudayal and mother Sakuntla and Mahender’s mule. Daudayal and his wife sleep here. Mahender has made a marriage with a good dowry and sleeps in a beautiful bedroom at the front of the house.

 

This is the bedroom at the back of the house where their parents (on the right) and Mahender’s mule sleep. It’s made of brick but it’s not plastered or painted and it doesn’t have electricity.

 

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With thanks to everyone at Khesikala and Madhupur, and to TDS India

Modern India is built on the backs of donkeys

Gurgaon, a city outside Delhi, India, is undergoing a boom in construction fuelled by the new Metro link and Delhi’s need for young professionals. Almost every brick in the country has been carried by donkeys during its manufacture. In Gurgaon they also work in lieu of cranes.

 

Modern India is built on the backs of donkeys. Guargaon, a city outside Delhi, India, is undergoing a boom in construction fuelled by the new Metro link and Delhi’s need for young professionals.

Continue reading “Modern India is built on the backs of donkeys”

A simple story about donkeys and people

With thanks to Mwende, Beth, Lydia, Jadida & The Donkey Sanctuary

Aid policy and interventions can raise very complex issues but in drought ridden Mwingi in NE Kenya the role of donkeys is really very simple. Without donkeys, people and their livestock cannot survive.

Donkeys form the vital final link in the distribution of water, food, firewood, fertiliser, grain and market goods.

 

Mwende holding the skull of Mutawr

This is Mwende holding the skull of Mutawr one of the nine cattle and ten goats she lost in the drought of 2009.

 

_MG_7561This cow is Kanini, Mutawr’s sister.

 

_MG_7351Kanini is alive because this donkey has been bringing her water. Continue reading “A simple story about donkeys and people”

Donkeys in Ethiopia

‘A woman without a donkey – is a donkey’  Ethiopian saying

There are 6.2 million working donkeys in Ethiopia. When they are fit and healthy they carry water to villages and goods to market. In both rural and urban areas they form the backbone of the local transport and haulage system and provide an income for the poorest families. If they become sick or injured then the work of carrying water and heavy loads to market will usually fall to women. The welfare of donkeys can be a matter of life and death.

Soguba donkey clinic, Ethiopia