Old blankets, a tree, even waste material like cardboard and plastic. They all serve to create one of the most primary human needs: shelter. That is what inspired Henk Wildschut in his project Shelters in which he captured the primitive accommodations of illegal immigrants in Europe on camera. Since 2005 Wildschut has been travelling around Europe to visit so-called transition areas where Southeast Asian and African refugees have encamped, waiting for the moment to cross over to a better life. Some of them are lucky to find that life. Others live in their shelters for months without any prospects.
The Jungle of Calais (France) is such an area. And the living conditions of the immigrants in the Jungle are, to say the least, sad and shocking. But that is not what strikes Wildschut the most. It’s succeeding in creating a home despite the abominable conditions they live in that caught his attention. He noticed for example that the immigrants keep their living space very tidy: blankets and clothes are folded neatly and some immigrants give their huts a homey touch by putting pictures and posters up on the cardboard walls.
Another interesting fact is that the descent of the immigrants can be derived from the shape of the huts. Asians build them square or rectangle and Africans prefer a round shape. Also refugees of the same culture seem to cling together; whole new villages are created, even for just a temporary situation.
These remarkable observations made Wildschut decide not to photograph the shelters from the evident dramatic point of view. Instead he chose a more unconventional aesthetic perspective, trying to capture the beauty. Or ‘beauty’, because the drama is of course inevitably transparent in every picture. Wildschut creates this dualism of drama versus beauty by isolating the objects that he photographs, so that viewers have to fill in the context themselves. Like the shelters in the Jungle; they may first seem tree huts made by children’s hands, but when reading the caption one will be confronted with the
truth. And then the truth hits the hardest…