Yesterday, Phoebe, Becky and Clare met at the beautiful Lumen URC situated just south of Euston and Kings Cross. Away from the busy streets and rushing traffic, the Church felt like a quiet haven. We were there to attend the Jesuit Refugee Service photography exhibition, entitled ‘Come and See’ and displayed in the church’s gallery and cafe space.
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) worked with not-for-profit organisation Fotosynthesis to produce and curate work by a group from JRS. Over a 12 week period, nine participants from different countries were guided through practical workshops to record, display and share their lives and experiences in London through photography.
Around the walls of the peaceful gallery were images from Sebastian, Helen, Momodu, Osman, J and Soledad. We were especially moved by Sebastian’s photograph of his open hands; the text he had written to accompany his image read “hands are important. They do everything for you. Fingerprints are a way to identify people and to control borders”. It was interesting to reconsider how even small and normal things are imbued with greater importance and significance when one is transitory. Similarly, a photograph of the iconic London ‘Mind the Gap’ logo was accompanied with the words “when I see this sign it has a deep meaning to me. I can’t go anywhere. I connect it with my life because of the situation I am experiencing”. We also found ourselves discussing the deeper implications of the phrase “my papers” for someone navigating complex asylum processes.
Afterwards, we met with Kate from JRS for a coffee and to discuss the exhibition. Kate explained that the workshops involved basic camera skills, a visit to a gallery to see how images are curated as well as street work in Wapping (around the Hurtado Centre where JRS are based), the City and around the participants’ own lives.
Kate added “JRS never try to speak on behalf of people, we do when they are unable to; but not here”. It was inspiring that these images that were not the typical ‘portraits of a refugee’ as I’ve seen so often in galleries and glossy Sunday supplements. This project instead is about giving ownership to the participants: about being a photographer, not the photographed, the creator and not the controlled.
Maybe we’ll never look at the Mind the Gap sign or pass through Border Control in quite the same way.