Henk Wildschut 

Calais, France, February 2006 

Calais, France, February 2006

About the artist

At a time when photojournalism is in a deep crisis, Henk Wildschut is one photographer boldly exploring new roads for documentary images. The profession of “documentary photographer” has changed radically over the past fifteen years: media budgets for photo commissions have dropped dramatically, logically resulting in a drop in quality standards. Professional practices have changed, and some are determined to explore new ones. Significantly, Henk Wildschut, with others, uses the term “self-assigned projects” to describe his work: not exactly personal projects, but rather projects commissioned from oneself. The expression highlights the fact that, as your only remaining sponsor, you need to set your own framework, to “assign yourself” rules and limitations if you are to shoulder the magnitude of extensive projects such as what Wildschut has been working on in recent years. The Dutch photographer, who travels extensively across Europe, started his voyage in Calais, with its infamous “jungle”, to meet migrants and their shelters. Henk Wildschut photographed these makeshift constructions frontally. Each in its own way is an accumulation of fabrics, tarpaulins and blankets, rudimentarily piled up according to the day’s chance finds, like so many strata of each migrant’s history and somehow still standing in spite of it all.


How did you become aware of the migrants issue? What was the starting point and where in Europe did this lead you to through the years?
I developed a fascination for this subject five years ago when I was covering the earthquake in Pakistan. In the encampments, I was struck by the evident need for domesticity, just days after such a horrific event. Small gardens quickly sprouted up around the tents, and people decorated the interiors to make them more ‘homely’. This is an image that the media are not likely to show when they report on disasters like these.
Back home I read an article on an encampment of illegal Pakistani, Somali and Afghani immigrants in Calais (France). The inhabitants of this ‘camp’ had sometimes travelled thousands of miles to get to Calais, the final hurdle between them and the land of their dreams, Great Britain.
Once there, they built makeshift shelters to cover them while they were waiting for their chance to make the final cross-over.
It quickly became clear to me that this expression of a primary necessity of life would form the leitmotiv for the documentary project I started at the end of 2005. For this project I travelled to Calais, the South of Spain, Dunkirk, Malta, Patras and Italy many times, looking for ‘shelters’. These ‘shelters’ to me became a symbol of the highly complex problem of illegal immigration, a problem in which the individual easily gets overlooked.

How did you choose the way you wanted to portray the situation?
By photographing the shelters in a neutral way, and not including the inhabitants in the frame, I give the viewer a different experience than he or she is used to when seeing this type of subject. The composition of the image gives an immediate sense of recognition (reminiscent of children’s tree-houses), but it also indirectly gives the viewer the opportunity to identify on a deeper level with the well-being and discomfort of the inhabitants. In this way, through a diversion, I hope to portray the ‘face’ of the person behind the shanty, with all their hopes and desires for a better future.

What is the story behind the two pictures selected here, both taken in Calais?

In 2008, a number of photos from the shelter series were exhibited at the Breda Photo Festival. The photos were printed on a super large format (6x9 metres) high quality canvas. The images developed a confrontational relationship with the modern architecture of the square where they were exhibited. After the show I shipped the large prints to Calais. The immigrants built strong, watertight shelters out of them. Before I left the prints with the immigrants, I showed one photo at the exact spot where I had taken it two years before. This produced an image that actually said more about the medium of photography than about the subject that had been documented there.

Was the shelter depicted in the 2006 picture still in place when you returned in 2009?
That shelter was destroyed by the police 1 months after i took the picture in 2006. In fact, in that part of the forest or Jungle as they call it, never appeared a shelter again. This was because of complaints of neighboring houses.
The Jungle then shifted 200 meter to the north.

In 2006, you picture the shelter. In 2009, you picture its absence. Could this image be read as a metaphor of the photographic medium : the image as the only remaining proof of what's left once time -and authorities- flushes away the traces of those men?
Yes, clearly, I think this image is a statement on photography and the situation of illegal immigrants. The photograph is a proof of the existing problem, but minutes after it has been taken, the situation can be different. This is why a photography is such a strong and sometimes also dangerous medium. It will remind you of things you would like to forget. In the forest you can find remains of the situation of 2006. But you will only be able to see when you know what happened in this place in the past. I put this picture back at this piece of the forest to remind it on the men it once gave shelter.

Limited edition, numbered and signed. 

Selected shows and awards

Food, VIV Jaarbeurs, Utrecht, Netherlands, 2014
Food, Kominek Gallery, Berlin, Germany, 2014
Our Daily Bread, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2013
Shelter, Le Rayon Vert Galerie, Nantes, France, 2013
Shelter, Voies Off Galerie, Arles, France, 2013
Shelter, University of Eindhoven, Eindhoven, Netherlands, 2013
Solo, Jan Cunen Museum, Oss, Netherlands, 2013
, Jan Cunen Museum, Oss, Netherlands, 2012
Waakzaam, Gemeente Archief, Amsterdam, 2012
Archivio Ricerca Visiva, Milano, 2011
Hamburg Book Festival, Deichtorhallen Photo Museum, Hamburg, 2011
EUNIC Summer Exhibition, Star Gallery, London, 2011
Simulaker gallery, fotopub festival, Novo Mesto, Slovenia, 2011
Si Fest festival, Savignano, 2011
Crisis, Kunsthal Rotterdam, 2011
Dutch Doc Award, Central Museum, Utrecht, 2011
Shelter, Atrium, Den Haag, 2011
WATW , Guangzhou Museum of Fine Arts, Guangzhou, China, 2010
Kraambezoek, De Kamers, Amersfoort, 2008
Shelters, BredaPhoto festival, Breda, 2008

Shelter, Best Dutch photo book, Kees Scherer Prize, 2009 & 2010
Shelter, Dutch dock Award, 2010

Selected publications

Shelter, Post Editions, 2010
A’DAM DOCk, with Raimond Wouda, By The Way, 2006
Sandrien, with Raimond Wouda, By the Way, 2003


& order

Henk Wildschut 
Calais, France, February 2006


Technical information

Pigment print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta Paper - limited edition, numbered and signed certificate.


30 x 38 cm, Edition of 100 250.00 €

By the same artist

Henk Wildschut

By the same curator