11 October 2017

How a Refugee Camp Became a City

11 October 2017 - Written by Laurence Cornet

In a series of photographs and drawings, Anita Pouchard Serra transforms the highly politicised and stigmatised issue of the refugee crisis into a story of intimacy and hope.

© Anita Pouchard Serra, from the series, Latent Urbanities

Last year, the massive evictions of refugees in the improvised camp known as La Jungle, in Calais was on every front page of every French newspaper and at the forefront of political discourse. It was instrumentalised for political purposes, often denying the issue of its wider implications. As a photographer and urban anthropologist, Anita Pouchard Serra refused such a narrow, dehumanised, approach.

“La Jungle was always talked about in terms of violence and misery. I am not saying that there was no health and social urgency, but I felt like the media lacked a peer-to-peer perspective. It reminded me of the way suburbs are often depicted in the press and I wanted to offer another narrative," she explains. She first went to La Jungle as part of a collective mega-project involving architects, political scientists, sociologists, among others, aiming to portray La Jungle differently.

© Anita Pouchard Serra, from the series, Latent Urbanities

The one-time, targeted mission led to many more trips by Anita to the camp over of 4-month period, and laid the foundation for her series. “I liked the idea of talking about these people through what they have been able to build in terms of collective and personal space”, she describes. “I was stunned by their resilience and choice to rebuilt a home and saw it as a point of connection with everyone else - we all are inhabitants and we all feel the necessity of dwelling somewhere, be it temporary.”

Her series narrates the full story, though only depicting the territory - close-up of pieces of furniture as well as metal, wooden, or fabric buildings used as homes, churches or restaurants. The only portraits appear as drawings - sketches that she often pens up as part of her architectural practice - occasionally associated to the script of the person they represent. “I was tired - as much as the refugees were - of the excessive use of their image. I wanted to tell their story without including photographs of them. Including drawings, of them and of their environment, was for me a way to disconcert the viewer and lead to a more personal, imaginary, understanding of the place - a place that could be La Jungle as much as any other existing or disappeared place.”

© Anita Pouchard Serra, from the series, Latent Urbanities

Her timeless record was noticed by the ANI (National Iconographer’s Association) at the Visa pour l’Image festival in early September. And indeed, stepping back from the media temporality, her series talks about broader issues. “Calais will take on more meaning with the passing of time. We talk about religious conflict for instance while in La Jungle you could see a mosque and a church next to each other. There was a reality there that deserved more attention and that will surely be looked at in the future”, she concludes.


Anita Pouchard Serra is an architect, urban anthropologist, and photographer. She is a member of Studio Hans Lucas and ARGRA (Association of Photojournalists in Argentina). Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

Written by

Laurence Cornet

Reading time

3 minutes

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