23 August 2016

Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun

23 August 2016 - Written by IC Visual Lab

What are the first images that come to your mind when you think of Calais? In this book, Alice Myers presents an unusual visual reality that is far removed from that portrayed by the main media outlets.

Image extracted from the book Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun by Alice Myers

Here in the Western World, every time we think about refugees we instantly portray Calais as the epicenter of this phenomenon. It’s a symbol of the migrant crisis, the biggest that has ever happened. Western media has shaped our common knowledge about this area and this issue by feeding us with a very particular ‘’reality’’. We could also go further and suppose that the first word that would come to our mind is ‘’Jungle’’, as this term was first introduced by the media in 2002 to describe the refugee camp.

But not only are the media responsible for the construction of this ‘’reality’’: politicians and other public figures have been referring to the refugees in such terms - the UK Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond infamously described them as “marauding”; David Cameron referred to a “swarm of people”; Czech President Milos Zeman has called the current wave of refugees to Europe "an organized invasion".

Image extracted from the book Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun by Alice Myers

In 2016, 9,000 humans lived in Calais - 865 are children and 78% of them are alone (data provided by La Via Active). If we look at the total number of refugees in the world (65.3 mill people), Calais only represents a small fraction of this. And if we look at the countries who receive most of these humans, we see that Europe only receives 6% of the total refugees. However, words such as ‘’invasion’’ or ‘’hordes’’ remain part of the daily news covers.

These dehumanizing labels and misleading figures of terror are only a few consequences of the way the media and governments approach the refugee issue. In the graphic below, we see the amount of articles and images produced since 2002 (five years after the first controversial camp, Sangatte, was built) about Calais. We can clearly identify two pick periods in the production of images/articles in 2009 and 2015

Introduction to Fortress Europe: Media, Migration and Borders Sara Marino, King's College London Simon Dawes, Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier

In September 2009, a battalion of media outlets showcased how the riot police demolished the refugee camp, previously known as ‘the Jungle’. This action was legitimized by the French government that was claiming that the Jungle had become a base for people traffickers who were targeting the United Kingdom as their ultimate destination. The demolition of the Jungle became a major news event for British media, where the spectacle of police brutality provided a theatre of cruelty with images of riot police and mighty bulldozers juxtaposed against flattened tents and tearful refugees.

The demolition was devised as a media spectacle by the authorities to impose their spatial control over Calais. However, new camps sprung up overnight to replace those destroyed while the French police continued their ritual of razing these down to the ground with their mammoth bulldozers. Hence the ‘jungles’ of 2009 never really disappeared and in the next few years remained in a liminal site of what Agamben terms the ‘state of exception’ inhabited by ‘bare life’; a form of life whose status is indistinct and not governed by conventional law or politics. On 2nd September 2015 the tragic image of Aylan Kurdi dead on the beach ignited further interest in the Calais crisis, which saw a surge in photo coverage of both the Mediterranean and Calais crises. An interesting piece of research about the effect this image had on social media can be found here.

Image extracted from Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun by Alice Myers

So what is Calais? A part of a rioting camp and the land of a drowned kid? Are these the only images the media is interested in buying about this particular part of the world? Are these the only images that can create awareness in our society? Is not all a bit macabre?

This year, Don McCullin said in his talk at Arles that all the images made by photojournalists so far haven’t contributed to build up a better world. I guess you can agree or disagree with this; it will definitely need further argumentation to come up with a proper conclusion if any. Whatever the answer is, what we can agree is that photographs can help us to imagine a particular reality, therefore it will all depend on what type of reality we want to believe in.

Image extracted from Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun by Alice Myers

"Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun" is a photobook by Alice Myers published this year by SOAP which focuses on Calais. It is instantly obvious that Alice’s approach to this topic has a very different angle than the media outlets. Alice was traveling back and forth to the refugee camp for around three years. Alice’s encounters with the people living in Calais were the most important part to fuel her work; encounters which were not obviously easy to have at first, but after several trips she had developed a social network in the camp. She built up a closer relationship with some of the people there keeping a regular conversation going even when she was back in the UK, via chat or text.

ALICE: Let’s talk about one of the pictures where we can see your face. Which one do you like?

ADEL: For example I like this one. It looks like I was sleeping or maybe I am not in a good mood. Maybe I was tired and I didn’t have enough sleep. But I like my way: sitting on rocks and holding cards and matches. Sitting, beside a tree. I imagine myself if I am on an island sitting by myself. And I was thinking about how I can get back to my land, or my people or my friends or whatever. That’s my expression about this photo. Like a misunderstanding.

Image extracted from Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun by Alice Myers

The first time I came across Alice’s work was back in 2013 when I first watched her multimedia piece ‘’No man’s land’’, which was also about this project. In this piece, Alice used a lighthouse to symbolize the searching of a new land. In the book, Alice uses a picture of the sea as an opening, but also as a closure, I guess the sea is still functioning as brackets of the exile. In her multimedia piece, Alice portrays an ambiguous reality, where the ideas of transitional time and spaces where smartly suggested with a foggy landscape.

These images are now sequenced in the book just before and after a little booklet where we can read fragments of Alice’s conversations with the people in Calais. These images of blurry silhouettes in the far distance are a very good visual metaphor of the process an individual goes through when removed from a place of origin (a homeland). The individual enters a period of liminality definitively between leaving one’s origin and resituating oneself in a new place. Regardless of the length of the liminal period, it becomes an intrinsic characteristic of exile such that the exiled individual is unable to align him/herself with a definitive state of belonging.

Spread of Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun by Alice Myers

In this project, Alice engages with people through a collaborative process in the camp, creating a series of images of the daily life. These visual documents articulate a visual dialogue with Alice’s work, where the strengths and weaknesses of human condition become evident. Alice's images are unpretentious, they are not portraying a spectacular event, but the mundane activities happening in the camp. She also collects some of the graphic elements which result out of these human interactions, such us the scrabbles on a piece of paper after playing a game or a hand written note that appears as a insert.

Alice, aware of people’s concern to be recognized in the photographs, invited them to create a series of collaborative portraits performed in front of the camera. She was not trying to become invisible in this unusual environment, she rather shared the production of images with them, emphasizing and empowering the construction of a collective narrative.

"Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun" is a humble book on a very complex issue, which also complements all the different outcomes (a multimedia piece, exhibitions, workshops…) that Alice has produced throughout the last five years. 

"Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun" by Alice Myers published by SOAP. 2016.


Printing: Full Colour Offset

Binding: Singer Sewn

Trim size: 240x180mm

Extent: 52pp + 16pp text booklet + 2 loose prints


Alejandro Acin is director of IC-Visual Lab, an organization based in Bristol (UK) that aims to promote and produce contemporary photography through a series of events and commissioned projects. IC-Visual Lab organises Photobook Bristol, an international festival for photobooks in Bristol.

Written by

IC Visual Lab

Reading time

9 minutes