Disposable Perspectives: a UCL student’s exhibition of photos taken by refugees in Paris

The exhibition offers a platform for a group of men who suffered a great deal of media scaremongering

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UCL medic Amy Lineham spent five weeks volunteering in an adult men’s refugee camp near Porte de la Chapelle in Northern Paris at the end of 2016. During her time there, she gave out 15 disposable cameras to the refugees, in a bid to show a different perspective of the refugee crisis to that of mainstream media coverage.

Amy is holding an exhibition of the photos called ‘Disposable Perspectives’ from 2-9th June at the HIVE, Dalston. We talked to Amy about the project and the men whose lives it portrays.

“This group are reported either as victims of the state with no independent identity or they’re villains. There’s no acknowledgement of them as individuals.

“I saw photographers come in and out and they think they were getting really involved. One journalist, for example, was being really quite sanctimonious – he came in for a week and he spent every day in the camp but he was very isolated from the camp population. He was going round taking his photos, he’d talk to a resident for five minutes but he’d talk to the volunteers most of the time.

“Towards the end of my time there I was thinking how to resolve these issues of the media portrayal of these camps. Like one day, I was walking back from the camp and I was thinking that it was weird that there hasn’t been any violence in the camp. But then I thought no, it’s not weird, I just think it’s weird because that’s what the media tells me.

“When we gave out the disposable cameras, the reception was unprecedentedly good. People really got that it was an opportunity. The point that I think the photos make very well is that these people are individuals with unique perspectives. Some of them are very artistic, some have taken photos of their mates. They’re just people, who happen to be refugees.

“It’s really important for people to realise that the reason some of the cameras didn’t come back wasn’t laziness or lack of engagement, it was literally that day by day these people’s lives are so hard. I messaged one of the guys asking him how he was and he replied saying he was so sorry, the police had come and raided his area and forced him to flee. He had to leave all his stuff and he was so sorry he’d lost the camera.

“There’s also this whole thing that refugees are fine as long as they’re good. But no, someone could be incredibly unpleasant but should still have a right to sanitation, education and health. It would be dishonest and quite counterproductive to pretend that everyone there was a golden boy.”

The cameras were given out together with blank postcards on which the participants could write a message to accompany their photos.

“The postcards I got back have some really heartfelt messages. One says something like ‘I don’t know how to describe the kindness of the people of France, they’re the kindest fairies’.  Another says ‘yesterday I saw the Eiffel tower, it’s beautiful, I had never seen anything beautiful before’.

“I made a flipbook film of all the photos and what really draws your eye is that there are loads of smiles. There are some photos showing rough conditions, quite a lot of people eating dinner on the floor in a blanket but then their friend will be next to them pulling a face. The photos are like holiday snaps, they’re just boys in Paris. There are ones of them at the Eiffel Tower and just making the best of a bad situation. You can’t come away thinking anything but they’re great. The chin-up mentality, the ability to be grateful for all the small things is really amazing.”