Souls of the Jungle

A project by Phil Le Gal & Celeste Cantor-Stephens.

Souls of the Jungle is a project collaboration between Phil Le Gal, a French documentary photographer and Celeste Cantor-Stephens a British musicologist, sound-artist and activist. Phil Le Gal founded The New Continent project in 2012 as a response in words and pictures to boundaries that represent the European Schengen space, some of the differences it hosts and the questions that arise. Celeste Cantor-Stephens has been a frequent visitor to Calais and its makeshift refugee camps. This is part of an ongoing active commitment to supporting refugees, asylum-seekers and other migrants, and one that began a few years earlier while she was living in Caen, Normandy.

Souls Of The Jungle by Phil Le Gal and Celeste Cantor-Stephens. Watch on Vimeo.

In 1985 the Schengen agreement was signed in the small town of Schengen, Luxembourg and instructed the removal of the controls at the internal borders of five countries. Thirty years later twenty six countries have now joined the single Schengen space.

Calais in Northern France is located on the edge of the Schengen space and is the gateway to the UK from the European continent. The city has seen migrants and refugees attempting to cross the English Channel reaching its municipality for years. In March 2015 local authorities allocated a plot of land for a camp. It saw a growing population of people and became “home” for a thousand of refugees. It has been nicknamed The Jungle. In June 2015 an estimated 3000 migrants were “living” in or around the Jungle. Most of the refugees there are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The situation is dire for refugees. After many failed attempts to cross some run out of money after paying huge sums to smugglers. With nowhere else to go they become stranded in the Jungle. After weeks or even months of surviving there some decide to go and seek asylum in France or in other European countries. Some are stuck in the jungle for very long period of time.

The series of portraits “Faces of the Jungle” shot in late August 2015, aims to offer an alternative to the visuals too often associated with refugees’ plights. A simple plain white backdrop is used to abstract the association with the squalid conditions of the camps and put the focus back on refugees as individuals, each with their own unique story. Invisible behind the white backdrop is the largest slum in Europe. The series has been selected as a favourite during the Visa Pour l’Image photojournalism festival in Perpignan in Sept 2015.