The Calais Jungle was the result of eighteen years of refugees temporarily settling around the Port of Calais, waiting to find ways to traverse the sea and reach the UK. Whilst for the first dozen years the numbers of people were reasonably low, since 2009 however they started to grow exponentially. Until, in October of 2016 when the jungle was demolished by French authorities (after much protesting, petitioning and UN regulations),it counted around 9,000 inhabitants at the time.
The Calais Jungle was not just a refugee camp in the sense of the word, it was a village. Throughout the years its residents had settled: they upgraded their tents into more stable sheds, and started businesses to sustain and entertain themselves. Human beings will always try to improve their life conditions, regardless to the lack of resources and possibilities - it might be considered as an innate nature to survive at first, but with time comes acclimatisation, adaptation and ultimately a type of strange circumstantial ‘being’.
Inside the Calais Jungle were restaurants and small shops on the main road, from which hundreds of small trails were leading to more and more huts, infinite huts. The Jungle was an extremely hostile place, yet, was vibrating of life. It was a space born out of the necessity to survive, a place that no one chose to inhabit, yet depended on its existence. It was a paradox on the French coast.
A lot of images representing the infamous Calais Jungle circulated on media platforms during the past year, the absurdity of the place understandably attracted hordes of journalists and photographers. For a few months our eyes – already trained to passively look at images of the migrant crises - became accustomed to photographs portraying the extreme living conditions of the camp, so close to our very own realities at that.
Aware of the intrusive eye of the camera, artist and photographer Gideon Mendel decided to challenge the typical photojournalistic gaze by not focusing on the people (understandably sceptic to get their portraits taken). Instead he set out to collect the infinite amount of objects left in the camp. Intimate yet detached, his project turned into a powerful exhibition, Dzhangal taking place at Autograph ABP.