Dzhangal by photographer Gideon Mendel, provides an alternative portrait of residents of the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, France, by presenting a series of photographs of discarded items such as toothbrushes, playing cards, worn-out trainers, teargas canisters and children’s dolls.
Between May and October 2016 Mendel travelled to Calais several times, tasked to teach 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 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.
Mendel’s alternative portraits of the residents are representative of the plight of displaced people across the globe. He has titled the project ‘Dzhangal’, a Pashto word meaning ‘This is the forest’, the origin of the contentious term the Jungle.
The book includes writing by residents of the Jungle camp – community organiser ‘Africa’, student and writer Babak Inaloo, artist ‘Mani’, and teacher Shaheen Ahmed Wali – as well as texts by author and broadcaster Paul Mason and art historian Dominique Malaquais. The publication of the book coincided with Dzhangal, an exhibition of the project at Autograph ABP, London from 6 January – 11 February 2017.
Gideon Mendel was born in Johannesburg in 1959 and studied Psychology and African History at the University of Cape Town. He began photographing in the 1980s during the final years of apartheid and it was this work as a ‘struggle photographer’ during this period that first brought his work to global attention. In the early 1990s he moved to London, continuing to respond to global social issues, with a major focus on HIV/AIDS, particularly in Africa but expanding worldwide during the last twenty years. Since 2007, Mendel has been working on ‘Drowning World’, his personal response to climate change. In 2015 he was shortlisted for the Prix Pictet Award (Disorder) for ‘Drowning World’. In 2016 he was the first recipient of The Pollock-Krasner Foundation’s Pollock Prize for Creativity and was awarded the Greenpeace Photo Award (Jury Prize).