What does it mean to be an asylum seeker in the UK? The question first struck Sam Ivin in 2013, after seeing news reports of a high volume of asylum applications and a UK border agency struggling to get a handle on the situation. A Documentary Photography student at University of South Wales, Newport at the time, he decided to visit drop-in centres and actually get up-close with the human beings behind the headlines.
The resulting series, Lingering Ghosts, published by Fabrica earlier this year, gives a visceral insight into the inner lives of the dispossessed.
The series has recently been exhibited at Athens Photo Festival, will be shown at Rome’s Galleria del Cembalo in September and features in our next issue of BJP, which focuses on photographic responses to migration.
Ivin would listen to their stories, take their portrait and then radically intervene in the image – defacing the photograph with a Stanley knife and sandpaper, evoking their sense of loss, confusion and dislocation.
His portrait [above], taken in a South London drop-in centre for refugees, is of a Nigerian woman who has been waiting for asylum status for over 10 years.
“She had been in the UK since 2005 and had her application for asylum refused seven times. She’d also contracted HIV here after being in an abusive relationship for four or five years. Her partner would beat her up, give her £20 then force her to sleep with people.
“She said the immigration police were still looking for him but she wasn’t concerned at all. She was just so grateful she had help from a refugee charity, ‘So thank God for me showing up at here and they teach us, they helping me, giving me freedom, bus pass, and my English is improving’ [sic]. That gratefulness, in spite of her horrific situation, was very humbling for me.”
That link has proved fruitful for countless photographers – Lucang Huang is just one of the latest. The Chinese photographer, currently studying at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, treats photography as “the balance between the real and the fictional, an extension of architecture.”
His image Unidentified Space was taken in a construction site around the Boston Harbour, an area of the city that has seen significant redevelopment and change in recent years. It’s in flux, but as Huang says, this is what makes it distinctive: “A characteristic of the structures there is the illegible identity as an architecture, due to the temporary structure and the damaged facade.”
Huang first studied Architecture at university in Japan and the ideas he accumulated here, learning from the likes of legendary architect Tadao Ando, deeply influenced his photographic sensibility. “[Ando] never went to an architecture school and got a degree, like many other architects do. That makes his design work different – he is really creating something that doesn’t exists in the architectural design field.” He also notes the impact Hilla Becher and her “adoption of the archeological perspective” and Rut Blees Luxemburg’s ability to ”connect her personal experience of the city with architectural scenes.”
Huang’s studies have helped him refine his practice, focusing on sharp lines, geometric shapes and contemporary structures. As he explains, Boston’s blend of Old World historicism and modern structures is partly what he found engaging.
“The construction of the transportation system around Boston Harbor drew me to the area, because the materials in transition reveal the building process of the whole city. Is this a process to modernisation? I don’t think so. Rather, I believe it to be a process to nowhere.”
Sam and Lucang were both runners-up in the Graduate Single Image category at BJP Breakthrough 2016, our annual summer season celebrating student photography. All Breakthrough runners-up receive WeTransfer Plus accounts, complete with long term storage, increased upload sizes and password protected transfers. Find more of Sam’s work here, and see a selection of work from Lucang here.
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