16 Years.

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Almost a year to the day after I first visited and photographed inside The Jungle, France has all but obliterated its biggest and most troublesome migrant camp. What expanded over the space of sixteen years was destroyed in less than two days.

I first visited the migrant camp in Calais last October, and before I go any further, I think it’s important to note that The Jungle is, or was, a migrant camp, not a refugee camp. Nobody will ever know the actual numbers of people who lived in the makeshift huts and cheap tents – but the average figure is around about 7,000. As a percentage, the number of genuine refugees was small. The vast majority of the inhabitants were economic migrants, mostly male – men endeavoring to get to the UK to work or to claim benefits. Nobody that I talked to ever denied this.

It was never my intention to use Calais as a long-term project – I knew that the camp wouldn’t be there for much longer, so I wanted to document it in my way while I still could. I know a lot of people were skeptical about the project, especially when I returned after Christmas and none of the images saw publication. There was one main reason for this – all of the agencies who I’d approached with my proposal, which involved me being in the camp for a week over Christmas, including Christmas Day, were anticipating something significant to happen, but it never did, it was just a normal day. Normal doesn’t sell newspapers. Despite this, I’ll never regret the time and money I invested in the project, which I shot entirely on film, because I believe I photographed the camp and its community in a way nobody else did. I also met a lot of warm, friendly, and incredibly resilient people, sadly, none of whom I will ever see again.

I’ve no idea what will happen to the population of the Calais Jungle; I don’t think the French government does either, to be honest. In my opinion, migrants will continue to arrive along the coast in the same numbers; they’ll build smaller camps elsewhere, and in turn, these camps will expand and then everyone is back to square one.

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60 comments

  1. Hannah

    You are amazing, Phil Kneen. Helen is right, you should be proud of yourself. Shooting on film gives such an emotive feel to the pictures, they’re brilliant. I’ll never get tired of reading and listening to stories about your worldly adventures 😊 X

    Liked by 3 people

  2. You brought a humanity to this place that was sadly missing from much of the commentary. Your photography was well-intentioned and extremely well executed. Perhaps in years to come when these migrants are settled somewhere they might happen across your photos of them and feel glad of them.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Vicki

    Your images are, and always have been, superb.

    What I like most about your imagery is the ordinary people going about their everyday lives. The meagre belongings. The miserable conditions and the resilience of these people in The Jungle (and elsewhere). These are the kind of images that the world needs to see. The mud. The lack of hygiene and the bare necessities on which these people are trying to exist. I seem to remember that you once wrote that all these people you spoke with wanted to go back to their homes and normal lifestyle in their home country one day – a country, community, homes, shops and conditions that have been taken from them through no fault of their own. The loss of family and familiar surroundings are irreplaceable. The loss of family members devastating. How can children in these camps become whole normal adults with what they have witnessed. I daresay only a few will make the grade in education and a sense of belonging in a foreign land with a culture so different to their own.

    Your images, you share with us few followers, are something of which you should be enormously proud.

    I am. And what is more, I feel privileged that your have opened my eyes and given me something to really think about. It saddens me that the publications you have approached don’t care.

    All the news seem to want are images of blood, gore, death and destruction. Well, these images are the end product of all that and yet westerners (in particular) speak of the horrors of war as though it is merely another paragraph in a newspaper that will be thrown out and forgotten the next day. How do people remember so vividly the horror of WW1, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and so on, but dismiss the same genocide and destruction today as though it doesn’t affect them.

    While I manage on a frugal pension myself, I am so damn lucky to have a lovely apartment, room to grow my potted plants & herbs and live in a beautiful neighbourhood surrounded by a community that supports and shares with me.

    The rest of the world needs to know how damn lucky they are too.

    Liked by 7 people

  4. Katie Drake

    I love your work so much – photos and writing. If you’re ever in Chicago I’d love to sit and listen to you talk about your work and your experience. Dinner would of course be on me🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Summer Kelly

    Amazing. You inspire me, Phil, and a lot of photographers I know at my local photography club here in Ottawa.

    May I ask, how is your name pronounced? Is it a silent K? I talk about you a lot, so I’d like to get it right!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Amazing shots you got there!! But also what you are trying to say here is also very important and prominent. The migrants are going to increase over a period of time and the solution must be found and implemented soon.
    Great work though, hope this post gets maximum publicity.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. ALHAMDULILLAH
    terima kasih banyak ya sebelum’nya kpd ibu winda atas info/publikasi postingan nomor hp bpk drs HERMONO, ibu winda
    kini saudara saya sudah di berangkat’kan menjadi TKI – Ke Jepang di tahun 2016, berkat bantuan Bpk DRS HERMONO , M.A beliau yang bekerja di kantor BNP2TKI pusat jakarta beliau selaku SEKERTARIS UTAMA di kantor BNP2TKI nomor hp dinas beliau yang selalu aktif : 0852-1391-3921 bagi teman teman yang ingin berangkat menjadi TKI kontrak silah’kan hubungi bpk drs Hermono muda muda’han beliau masih bisa membantu masalah pemberangkatan anda. semoga sukses ya teman amin…amin amin….

    Liked by 3 people

  8. This was amazing, heart-rendering, and completely out of the normal. Normal in media is searching for chaos, the destruction of another human being. You defied that, in fact you defied it and did more, you defied it and showed the beauty of defying in this world of darkness and isolation. Simply beautiful.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. We found ourselves in Calais just before the time you shot those pictures. It was still hot and there were random fires, fighting and blocked roads. We saw less than a dozen women or children. I was sad but nonplussed. At a time when Syria truly needed help the economic migrants jumped , this disguised and stopped refugees from getting much needed assistance. Vast movements of people have been recorded for centuries, it always will. But those not in imminent danger should go home and give the world a chance to save those with genuine need.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Lucy Harrison

    Phil, you have a very ‘colourful’ reputation, I think it’s fair to say, but we all know what Island life is like, most of the negative comments I’ve heard about you have been based on jealousy and spite toward your obvious talent (huge talent) and most of what I’ve been told has proved to be untrue. However, all of the positive comments I’ve heard are true – this project and a lot of other work you’ve done reflect an obvious compassion, honesty, kindness, empathy and honour. I wish you all the best with any future work and I look forward to seeing what else you have ‘in the bag’. Keep up the ‘fuck them all/rock ‘n’ roll’ reputation too – you’re a shining light in a forest of dullness X

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Lola Parra Craviotto

    Hello, Phil – I am cover the migrant situation for Le Monde and I wonder whether you’d consider joining me in Paris to photograph migrants there? Your images of Calais really are unique.

    Lola

    Like

  12. Pingback: Jungle – @Peter's Blog

  13. Adam Curry

    I’m not sure this is a particularly well informed piece, you can’t get balance in journalism by just spending a few hours with these people. Nice photos though.

    Like

      • Adam Curry

        Yes, I totally agree. However, I worked in the Jungle for 4 months for a food distribution charity and I never saw any journalist stay for more than a day before disappearing back to a comfortable hotel.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Phil stayed at the camp, in the mid-winter mud, and didn’t “disappear back to a comfortable hotel”, it probably helped him produce these moving photos and all the volunteers must be glad that their plight is being publicised – if a little late.

        Like

    • Hannah

      I think if you looked back through Phil’s work on here you would see that he hasn’t just spent ‘a few hours’ with these people and he definitely didn’t disappear off to a comfortable hotel while he was there either.

      Liked by 1 person

    • People do what they can. It’s the way of the world that some receive more public attention than others, which can be a bit galling at times, but it doesn’t detract from the unseen work done by the volunteers like yourself. Hope you’re not put off doing future projects.

      Like

  14. Susan

    Hi Phil, I’m on the Isle of Man in a couple of weeks for a seminar and would love to meet-up for a chat if you can spare the time? (I’ll be staying in Douglas, if that’s anywhere near you?). Your work fascinates me.

    Like

  15. Linda Gregory

    Your photography and writing are both brutally honest, not just in this article, but in everything I’ve spent the last few hours reading. You have a candor and loyalty to your craft which is sadly lacking in most mainstream journalism these days.

    Liked by 1 person

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