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The Right Level of Exposure

CALAIS – MAY 16-17, 2019

CONTEXT The sun shone on Thursday

and there was heavy cloud cover on Friday. The change in weather felt a bit like a litmus test for the dynamic in Calais, mirrored in our use of cyanotype printing and its own relationship to UV.

In Calais the environment is getting even tougher than previously with mafia control apparently on the increase in the area. People are necessarily much more dispersed. Some don’t have mobile phones which means that access to services is harder because services themselves are having to shift their patterns.

Numbers are possibly lower, though there continues to be a high turnover of people. Some have however been here for a very long time. A vigil took place this morning marking one year since a toddler was accidentally shot dead in Dunkirk.

THURSDAY DAY CENTRE It was a busy afternoon in the day centre and the sun was shining with bright blue skies. This made the making of cyanotype prints possible, and the contribution of a tin minibus and beautifully crafted bicycle from Sudan, amongst other objects, drew people to the table both inside and outside in the sun. In such light conditions shadows can print, adding depth to the image. Decisions in turn need to be made quickly before the UV fixes the cloth and objects and shadows become under or over exposed.

A few young men responded to the invitation to make sun prints using their own bodies and chosen objects while their friends gathered round: “keep still, only two minutes!” We experimented together with body shapes – what will make the best shadow and leave positive and negative prints. The cloth is washed out in a bucket of water and hung out on the washing line. The alchemy draws people in, in-spite of themselves.

DISTRIBUTION In front of the large map taped to the ambulance we met several young men interested in talking together about their own countries and the politics of borders. There was humour as well as desperation. Some spoke out: “we are going mad here”. The Médecins du Monde team provided homemade cake and hot drinks which aided something of a more supportive atmosphere. Interestingly, up until now journeys have been drawn on the map. This particular afternoon new borders were instead marked in silver pen – “if the borders were shifted we would have a much more peaceful world”. Others explained why they had had to leave Iran for speaking out against the regime and that it could and should be so different.

FRIDAY SECOURS CATHOLIQUE MEETING Much discussion took place about Refugee Week, cross border projects and the breaking of the Ramadan fast this evening in the day centre. Concern was raised about the further increase in police brutality which seems to grow during the Ramadan fasting period. In contrast we were as ever impressed by the imagination and courage of the Secours Catholique team in its commitment to an inclusive community.

DAY CENTRE When the sun is not so bright you might get a better print and cloud cover invites a slower process and more time for composing an image. The day centre itself was very busy with lots of volunteers from various organisations as well as subdued and tired men and women, many of them fasting and several men sleeping around the edges of the room. In these conditions the outside space became the more intimate with moving conversations taking place around the print table. The prints emerged from under the cloud cover, rinsed out with water, the magic of a positive image emerging from the negative.

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