Photographer: Christoph Oeschger (born and living in Zürich, Switzerland)
Publisher: cpress, Zürich, Switzerland; © 2017
Essay: Léopold Lambert
Softcover, naked-stitched binding with transparent dust cover; 140 pages, non-paginated, with 1060 photographs; 16×26 cm; edition of 600 copies; printed by Graphius, Ghent, Belgium
Photobook Designers: Christof Nüssli, Christoph Oeschger, Chiara Zarotti
Over the last several decades, the world has been especially troubled by new migrations from countries that represent trouble spots to their people. The reasons can be political, religious, cultural, economic, or any combination. Often the destination seems like some kind of paradise in comparison to the place of departure, but the journey toward that supposed paradise is arduous and in itself a major challenge for all concerned, while the nearly impossible dream of a better future keeps the refugees’ hopes alive.
Previously, I have reviewed some photobooks here that concentrated on the fundamental strife in these countries of origin, such as Paula Bronstein’s Afghanistan – Between Hope and Fear, and Giles Duley’s One Second of Light. In this volume, Oeschger examines one geographic area – the refugee detention areas in the Calais region – one of the bottleneck transition sites as people flee from Africa and the Middle East toward European destinations, toward hoped-for relief.
This volume contains 1060 photographs, a veritable typology of unpleasant places to stay, and is arranged in two interspersed types of sections: the environmental surroundings are shown on pages mostly printed flush; the glued inserts are printed on more glossy paper and show glimpses of refugee life in small snapshot-like images, moments that are almost impossible to share, as we almost never see their faces, nor are their activities mostly a part of what we can see clearly either. A distance has been created both physically and visually, to match the physical. Oeschger has managed to create a presentation of these sequestered and walled-in areas that definitely makes us feel uncomfortable – “there but for fortune go you or I,” as the old Phil Ochs/Joan Baez song goes. The indignities of imposed structures or self-created improvised sleeping quarters, as well as the overall semi-clinical sequestering, heaped on top of old horrors experienced by the refugees and migrants in their home countries, are indeed a heavy burden to bear. This volume is a visual wake-up call for those (people and countries) who want to push these pressing problems aside. The essay by Léopold Lambert and the historical chart provide further background on the issues and their contexts. Those who are truly in need of protection do deserve decent treatment. And aren’t we all fervently hoping for a better future?
Christoph Oeschger and his team have managed to create a compelling presentation that makes its points by combining techniques from photojournalism and fine art. The vast number of images of the walled-in areas have the effect of showing the humans as being seen as quite marginal. Many of the shots are intentionally blurry or indistinct, to give us something to puzzle over. The colors are mostly muted, to convey the dreariness of the place. The transparent red cover creates a feeling of immediate urgency and danger; the vast surroundings of the camp areas and the furtive glimpses of the refugees cause in us a cathartic sharing of conditions full of improvisation and emergency, a sense of void and emptiness for which we wish there were better solutions. A powerful volume, check it out for yourself!