Drawing Negative

Heather McDonough

2016 - Ongoing

Drawing Negatives:

When the refugee crisis began in 2015, people were crossing Europe to reach the United Kingdom, they managed to get as far as Calais in France. Many, mostly men were forced to camp for weeks and months, whilst trying anyway possible, to reach Britain.

I was horrified that we could have such a huge crisis on our doorstep, and went with my neighbours, regularly over 10 months to volunteer to help clean the camp. We went armed with bin bags and rubber gloves and tried to make the place a little more habitable. I couldn’t believe that there were 8000 men living 21 miles away from Britain, without sanitation, proper sleeping facilities and no shoes. I had no intentions of making any photographs while we were there. We were told not to photograph or make portraits as their identity should remain unknown in case they made it successfully to Britain. If they were known to have resided in France, they would be sent back to France. However the men I talked to wanted me to photograph them and the state of where they were living, they wanted people to help tell their stories. I have been battling with how to show the photographs, to shield their identity. By presenting the images as negatives you trace the contours, you see the light and the dark areas, the images remind you of heat cameras, detectors, night vision cameras, cctv.... The faces look like drawings, you can see the detail and their individuality, without knowing who they are.

I made photographs of objects found in the mud, shoes, food, duvets. I also photographed the shelters and the shops that sprang up in the camp. I also made photographs of the landscape swamped with rubbish.

If I was given the opportunity to expand this project, I would concentrate on the production of each part of the project. I want to experiment with making prints of the portraits as negative images, and I also want to print the faces very dark and fold the black & white prints over and over again, then scan these and print up A0 size as huge posters of these fold tattered images, reminiscent of the family photographs they were carrying in their pockets and folded and unfolded to show us, visitors.

I want to create a concertina folding book of the shelters to explore scale, architecture and the strength to create shelter and community out of plastic and bits of wood.

I also want to make a time based piece recreating blankets, duvets and sleeping bags in the mud and how in different lighting conditions these items of protection begin to take on a new landscape.

The work I make is not documentary, I want to experiment with working with the images I have created and re-create and place some of the stories told to us on tape and remembered fragments of our conversations.

We did make a film immediately on our return, to highlight the plight of these men, but I am not finished yet in persisting in making a powerful moving series that will help to change opinion about migration and refugees especially in the UK in our current, difficult, right wing climate.

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