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DAMn° magazine # 22 / JEAN REVILLARD

Camping Sauvage Jean Revillard: The Untouchable They fled from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Ghana, and Kurdistan. They’re young, male and many, and still waiting in Calais for their chance to reach the greener grass of the UK. It’s a story that was meant to have come to an end, but in reality was driven to the wilds. Swiss photographer and World Press winner Jean Revillard has made a series of dreamy pictures of their scruffy makeshifts, built in the wooded areas of Calais that the French police call the ‘jungle’, but the human tragedy he interprets is nothing short of a nightmare.




In 2006, four years after current French president Nicolas Sarkozy closed the asylum centre in nearby Sangatte to please the British, Jean Revillard started going to Calais. He went to explore the ’jungle’: a piece of no-man’sland near the harbour of Calais in the north of France, at the entrance of the Chunnel and the ferry port. It’s there that hundreds of asylum seekers wanting to reach the UK continue to stay out of necessity, in home-made shelters made of rubbish, plastic bags and driftwood, until, one night, they’ll finally succeed in reaching the other side. At least, that’s what they all believe will happen. Calais, since the opening of the Chunnel in 1994, has become a staging post for those trying to sneak into Britain. They try their luck on the ferries, trucks, cars and trains that cross the waters. For many asylum seekers Britain is still a land of opportunities where work would be easy to find. ‘I photographed the makeshifts they live in, in a dreamy setting – because it’s their temporary nest where they hopefully dream of a better life, very near to the realisation of it.’

showing up; the mafia trying to get their money; the cold at night, the rain. They have to live in complete misery, without any human dignity.’ Most of the illegals coming to Calais are very young: children of 15, adolescents and young men in their twenties. ‘Being there as a photographer, I wonder how come our fortified castle Europe is so afraid of them and finds it necessary to defend itself against these children and young guys dreaming of a better life.’ Moreover, in demographic terms, it could be argued that Europe needs one million new inhabitants every year to make sure it maintains its economy and standard of living. Young people are most wanted in such a situation, one would think. ‘Often when I took pictures of their makeshifts, they asked for my mail address. When they succeeded in reaching the other side, they’d let me know. These young guys actually often succeed in building up a new life over there. Not a big surprise, since they’re young and full of energy. Besides they can survive in extreme circumstance - it takes courage to get through.’

Castle Europe

Of course, these young, newcomers happen to be competitors for locals when it comes to work. And while it doesn’t fully explain the current British political landscape, it wasn’t a shock that in the recent elections, for the first time the extreme right-wing British National Party got enough votes to get two seats in the European Parliament. Tapping into fear of immigrants is a tried and tested political path, and as Revillard notes ‘Calais is the ideal setting for populist politicians. There are illegal

The daily reality Revillard found in the ‘jungle’ was a shock to him: ‘No refugee or asylum seeker ever lives in grand luxe, but I’d never seen such horrible circumstances of life before. Since the Red Cross asylum centre in Sangatte closed in 2002, where people had electricity, water and showers, asylum seekers stuck in Calais have had to survive in the woods. No electricity, no water; the danger of being robbed; the constant fear of the police


people everywhere in Europe – the point is Calais is the only place where they are so very visible, all waiting for their chance to escape to England.’ Return to Nature

‘In Calais I was shocked to see how our new European security laws force man to dwell like a wild animal. It drives people into the jungle, literally. Not only in Calais, but also everywhere in Europe dropouts are forced to live in the woods now, on abandoned parking lots, in empty industrial zones. This happens in Calais with illegal immigrants, in Italy with prostitutes, with poor Roma in Budapest and homeless people in Greece.’ It’s precisely this evolution Revillard as a photojournalist is interested in; and what he wants to witness with his pictures. ‘There have always been dropouts, but what is happening now in Europe is a new development: by treating people so inhumanly, Europe, where human rights, democracy and humanism were invented, tends to become a moral jungle. The interests of our politicians, and our rough capitalist economy force part of mankind to become wild again. Thus, even though they’ve been coming for more than 20 years now, the illegals are not the real problem of Calais. The real problem is how these people are treated. Of course, the press often is more interested in the new dress of the French president’s wife, Carla Bruni.’ The new social reality puzzles Revillard, and he explores it with his camera. ‘While travelling through Europe, I

explore all those woods, parking lots and empty pieces of ground where the expelled people have to live, in temporary makeshifts made of garbage. I take pictures of that forced “retour à la nature”.’ This has become the mission of his work. Revillard is like Alice in Wonderland, following his camera, into the wonderland where he seems to be one of the few ‘normal’ human beings, just like he has been a close witness of what happens in ‘the jungle’ in Calais and elsewhere in Europe. ‘I discover the territory with my camera.’ Hunted & Humiliated

Revillard decided, like many of his colleagues, to witness the true extent of the problem politicians talk tough on: the human reality behind the immigration story. But, whereas many fellow photojournalists chose obvious pictures, his images are more ambiguous. He chooses to use an alternative grammar of photographic language. ‘There were already so many pictures; I didn’t want to repeat these stories. Besides, illegals in Calais don’t make newspapers sell anymore. People get tired of this kind of subject in the media. What had to be done to catch the viewer’s attention? I understood we had to look for another way of visualising this subject, in order to attract the attention of the crowd.’ He made dreamy pictures referring to fairy tales. No faces, no traces of the inhabitant, only the shelters. Thus, whoever looks at his pictures of these spherical ‘cabanas’ for the first time, might not think about the scruffy makeshifts of poor, hungry, terrified, hunted and humiliated asylum seekers waiting


for their chance to fly to Britain, but rather dream away in a fantasy-filled narrative. The audience is left more to interpret than to read it straight. ‘Only when you look a bit closer, you do understand there’s a terrible reality and a human drama behind these images. I hope this way I can challenge people to reflect on the subject of immigration and the way Europe treats people looking for a better life. So I’m grateful I can exhibit my pictures in cultural centres, where a crowd comes that doesn’t know so much about this subject, that lives a comfortable life, that votes for right-wing political parties.’

rent French minister of immigration Eric Besson wants to close the jungle before the end of summer. He announced his decision in a press conference, saying: ‘This is Calais; this is France. This is not Kabul. The law of the French Republic applies here.’ For Revillard ‘this decision will only relocate the problem: the people will go to hide somewhere else, like many of them are already going to Paris. They won’t stop dreaming of paradise and they won’t stop coming. So this is no solution at all. Britain stays where it is, and does Calais.’

With his series of pictures ‘Makeshift huts of immigrants’ Revillard won the World Press Photo award in 2008. ‘For two years I had been working in Calais without getting much exposure in newspapers or magazines. With the award this all changed: all of a sudden international media showed an interest in my pictures and in the illegals stuck in Calais. I appreciate so much the fact that the World Press Photo jury made the audacious choice of pictures messing with the grammar of photojournalism. You know, with my pictures I work on the edge of art, and the World Press Photo jury has no other aim than to choose the best pictures that show the events that shaped the world that particular year.’ Dreams of Paradise

In the end will Revillard wake up and find everything was nothing more than a bad dream, like in most fairy tales? ‘I’m afraid all this is very real,’ he says. The cur- Jungle by Jean Revillard is published by Labor et Fides. The work will be shown on his website, and permanently at the Krisal Gallery, Geneva.

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Camping Sauvage: Jean Revillard, The Untouchable  
Camping Sauvage: Jean Revillard, The Untouchable  

They fled from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Ghana, and Kurdistan. They’re young, male and many, and still waiting in Calais for their chance...