Before the advent of agriculture around 10,000 years ago, the human species was entirely nomadic. We are the descendants of travellers, trapped in a sedentary culture. Of course we still take holidays, travel to work, and occasionally move house, but we frown upon those who roam like our ancestors did.
Agriculture has tied people to place and created sharp distinctions between what is “mine” and what is “yours”, both in terms of physical possessions as well as space. In effect, a strong, new, cultural norm has arisen that makes our ancestral heritage taboo, and stigmatises any person or group whose way of life does not fit these highly structured, codified and inhuman regulations.
I was born in London to an English mother and as the direct descendant of immigrants who came from Apartheid era South Africa in search of a better life. These same immigrants, were the descendants of other immigrants who had left China and South East Asia in the 1800’s in order to escape poverty, and in search of a better life. I left London to come to France in 2012, after having spent a number of years living in Finland, in what could be seen as a long line of migrations throughout history with no traceable beginning.
In October 2016 it was announced that around 50 migrants, originating from the middle east and Africa who had made the long journey to Calais and the cold reception awaiting them there, would undergo re-location once more, but this time to the small village of St-Léger-La-Montagne. A village with a population of just over 300, a single restaurant, no shops and virtually no public transport, was to be the setting of the next temporary home for this new generation of migrants, while they wait for their asylum claims to be processed and for their futures to be decided by government deities.
Coincidentally, it was in July of the previous year that I had moved once again, for the fourth time in as many years, to my own isolated little plot of land just a few kilometres from St-Léger, where until now I had remained separate from world events. As I had predicted, the “western world”, the privileged, the long-time capitalists, would only be shielded inside their local bubbles for a limited time, before the realities of pollution, overpopulation and crisis would forcefully impose themselves on the false sense of calm, control, and organisation that keep us sane. Chaos was scheduled to arrive sooner than I thought.
In the same way that history isn’t an accurate representation of the past, the news is not representative of the present. A rational person knows that the news covers only a minute fraction of world events at any one time, viewed from the perspectives of people who are paid to grab our attention. However, as a species, human beings are not rational, and few actually aspire to be, so the news is believed to be the truth, instead of one small subjective take on it.
In addition, photographs, however life-like, can only ever be half-truths at best, so in a world where our opinions and ideas are shaped by the media and all its opinions masquerading as facts, it’s easy to get caught up in illusions about what is actually going on in the world. The European migrant crisis, along with its many racist, ignorant and xenophobic, outspoken commentators is one such example where we can fall victim to this effect.
The photographic process involves separation on many levels, by first dividing the world into those objects within the frame; the subjects, and those who remain outside of it. The photographer himself is removed from the entirety of this world, whether subject or non-subject, by the lens of his camera. His role is not to affect the world, not to change it in any way beyond the limitations of his photographic tools, but he is there to simply record it. In this way, the photographer can never be a participant, only a strange kind of observer. And then, once a photograph has been made, the viewer becomes the final piece in the puzzle, by looking at these second-hand images in an alien context, as a stranger to the events and people that created them.
Thus the story of the outsider is born – As in my home town, in my country of residence I am an outsider, and in the countryside as someone from the big city I am an outsider, born from generations of outsiders, who, in doing photography, becomes an outsider to tell a story of other outsiders, to other outsiders who will experience it all from an outside perspective.
However, another way of looking at it is that after having lived in different countries as an immigrant, my perspective is that of an insider, and after having lived in the local area for over two years, I am an insider compared to those who have been sent from Calais, and I am also an insider having grown up in a European culture.
The dual perspectives of outsider and insider are inherent in who I am, as an individual with mixed heritage, and no sense of belonging anywhere to any fixed place or group. I am the self-referential yin and yang that comments upon itself.