SWNS photographer describes what it was like to photograph migrants in Calais

Meet the migrants in Calais and hear their stories

Buzz Feed 25062015They say ‘Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.’

With the global population continuing to explode (projected to rise from 7bn to 11bn by 2050), human migration is inevitably set to continue growing too.

Migrants in Calais have are often seen as a menacing group who are breaking into lorries and causing traffic jams. Meanwhile, the town’s mayor has said it can’t cope with the numbers.

This week Buzzfeed wanted to find out who they are, where have they come from, and why did they leave their homelands?

Buzzfeed asked SWNS photographer Tristan Potter to accompany their journalist on a trip to Calais to investigate and capture this story.

You can see this fascinating Buzzfeed article here (where you’ll see all of Tristan’s photos).  It really is worth a look:



Tristan Potter has recently joined the SWNS team, and here he describes his experience of working with Buzzfeed:

Buzz Feed 25062015So the phone rings at 13:15 on a Wednesday afternoon and on the other end, it’s Steve (SWNS bookings desk) asking if I could get to Calais for Buzzfeed and pick up their journalist from London on the way.

I grabbed my kit, loaded the car and hit the road. I met the journalist at Upminster tube station and we headed for Dover. At 21:15 we were on the ferry leaving for Calais and that’s when I started to consider exactly what this job could entail.

When we got to Calais we headed for some of the reported active areas to see if we could see what was happening. We parked in a local KFC car park, I grabbed my camera (Nikon D3 on a 50mm f1.8), and we walked down the A16 motorway towards the junction for the Euro tunnel. As we walked past queuing lorries I couldn’t help feeling we were being watched. There were signs everywhere of activity, holes in the metal fences, broken padlocks and lorry seals scattered everywhere. As we came around the bend we saw our first sign of the refugee’s. There was a group of approx 30 people trying to get into the back of queuing lorries.

The sound of horns from the lorries pierced the night as other drivers were warning the lorry in front they were being broken into. Neither of us felt comfortable so we observed from a distance as there was no obvious police presence and more and more refugees were arriving from all over. We decided it best to approach again in the morning with daylight and headed for the hotel.

In the morning we got talking to the hotel owner and he introduced us to someone from the British office who came to talk with us. After hearing some horror stories of journalist being chased off with knifes we both felt more nervous about the entire thing. Our first port of call was the town centre where we talked to locals to see how the migrant population was affecting the local businesses. There was very little sign of the migrant problem in the town and local workers and business owners seemed to not have any issues with them.

From here we headed into the camp. When we found it there were ambulance crews on the perimeter who were treating an injured migrant. First we met Alpha on the outside edge of the camp. He was at first very uninterested and hostile towards us, but with time he then invited us to take a seat at his table and he would talk with us. Having offered us tea we had our first encounter of an incredibly troubled group of human beings.

One of the most difficult issues we discovered, as we ventured further and further into the camp, was the acute awareness of my camera. These people didn’t want to have their pictures taken, nor did they want to talk to anybody in the press. There was an obvious distrust of us and as we approached people they didn’t understand English or any of the languages the journalist spoke, but every so often we would meet someone who would talk and the stories that we heard we beyond belief. The struggle and poor treatment of these individuals was beyond anything i could have ever imagined.

It was interesting hearing that a lot of the people we spoke to were applying to reside in France and had not that much interest in coming to the UK. It seemed the younger migrants were more interested in the education the UK offers and also the process here is a lot shorter, so they at least get an answer in a reasonable amount of time. We also met people who had been to the UK and had returned to live in France and were living in the camp until they received the answer one way or the other.

It was incredibly challenging to think of ways to shoot people that did not want to have their faces in the pictures. This is where the back portrait idea came from and as the day went on they were more comfortable with this style. As far as rewards go, I got to experience an incredible and current international crisis and hear the reasons why this is happening. The majority of these refugees have been not only been on an incredible journey, but have endured experiences you wouldn’t wish on you’re worst enemies. Before going i struggled to understand any of this situation, but having now experienced it I have a much better understanding of their want for safety and equal treatment.

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