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Interviews

Tim Hetherington Grant <br class="br_visual" />winner Olivier Jobard on migration

Tim Hetherington Grant
winner Olivier Jobard on migration

© Olivier Jobard/Myop

October 2014

The 2013 Tim Hetherington Grant was awarded to French photojournalist Olivier Jobard (Myop) for his project ‘Dream of a Rain of Perfume’, which followed the journey of two migrants, Jawid and Rohani, as they were smuggled out of Afghanistan. To find out how the project started and discover how the Tim Hetherington Grant has helped its development CPN writer Ian Farrell spoke to Olivier Jobard and his collaborator, video journalist Claire Billet...

© Olivier Jobard/Myop

Rohani and Jawid, Tepe Maranjan, Kabul, Afghanistan, 30 March, 2013. “Nothing will be missed, except our family. The heart of the Afghans has hardened. Life has no value; a life abroad is worth a thousand here. Men are dropping like flies.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF35mm f/1.4L USM lens; the exposure was 1/4000sec at f/2.2, ISO 100.

After causing political shockwaves in 2014’s European elections, the issue of immigration continues to make headlines. It’s a topic that splits opinion, and is in every politician’s manifesto. Yet the debate surrounding migration is one conducted in numbers and statistics, using hyperbole and cliché. It’s an approach that photojournalist Olivier Jobard doesn’t like: “I want to get close to them, these migrants. To show them as people; as the human beings that they are.”

After working as a photojournalist for the French agency Sipa Press, Jobard first encountered migration as a topic in 2001 when he was sent to photograph events at the notorious refugee camp in Sangatte, just outside of Calais, France. He reveals: “What I saw there were the consequences of the events I had photographed elsewhere in the world – people fleeing the conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Chechnya. I met people from small villages in Afghanistan that I’d just been to myself. I was able to give them news about their home and their families. Things like that bring you closer to people, and this is how I became more and more immersed in the immigration topic. How were these people trying to get to the UK? And how had they managed to get to France in the first place?”

Jobard started to investigate the idea of following a migrant’s journey, choosing an African route from Cameroon to France. He notes: “I was already working on another story in Cameroon in 2004 and met a guy called Kingsley who was preparing his trip. Six months later we set out and made the journey together.”

Dream of a Rain of Perfume

Since then Olivier Jobard has photographed more routes around the globe, following migrants as they seek a new life elsewhere in the world and in 2012 he joined forces with video journalist Claire Billet to document the route taken by migrants from Afghanistan.

© Olivier Jobard/Myop

Rohani (left) on the bus from Peshawar to Lahore, Pakistan, 22 April 2013. “I hope to have a license to drive a taxi in Europe. I will shave and dress like people there, otherwise they'll wonder where it comes from.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF35mm f/1.4L USM lens; the exposure was 1/60sec at f/1.8, ISO 1000.

Claire Billet had lived in Afghanistan for a long time, and began producing work on migration issues in 2010. “She knows the language and customs of the country well,” Jobard says. “Together we started looking for people-smugglers who would let us travel with a group of migrants paying their way to Europe.”

After a while searching for the right smuggler, Jobard and Billet found a contact who they describe as “professional and business-like” and who was willing to let the pair join a party heading for Europe. Jobard recalls: “He allowed us to join largely to show his credibility and professionalism, and the efforts he would take to make sure the people he smuggled were safe.”

Claire Billet adds: “Gaining the trust of the people in the group wasn’t so much of an issue, but we wanted to make sure that our activities weren’t going to put them at risk or cost them more money. They don’t understand why we are willing to travel such great distances for our work; for them it’s a difficult choice that they’ve made to improve lives.”

Jobard and Billet aimed to tell the story of two members of the group. Olivier Jobard explains: “Jawid was a member of the Taliban who was fed up with the fighting. He couldn't stand having to choose between his brothers and the foreign fighters – between Afghan and Taliban governments. He was always looking over his shoulder to see if there was someone there with a gun. For Rohani, it was problems with the Taliban that drove him away. He protected a friend who was working with foreign troops, and the Taliban weren’t happy about that.”

Jobard says that people like Jawid and Rohani believe that the west can offer them a life free of persecution, and the chance to make a better life. The title of his project ‘Dream of a Rain of Perfume’ is a reference to the men’s dream of reaching Paris – a city where, they have heard, a helicopter sprays the sky with perfume each morning.

Choosing a route

There are two main migration routes from Afghanistan: the first heads north through Tajikistan and Russia, while a second route goes south via Pakistan and Iran. It was this southern route that Jobard and Billet took, heading towards Turkey and a sea crossing to Greece – and the EU. But after weeks of travelling, an encounter with the Greek coastguard was to bring their journey to a halt.

© Olivier Jobard/Myop

A hideout where Rohani and Jawid spend three nights, Van, Turkey, 20 May 2013. “The worst part is the waiting. You never know exactly when you will leave. It drives you crazy.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF35mm f/1.4L USM lens; the exposure was 1/60sec at f/2, ISO 1600.

Jobard reveals: “In the Aegean sea we were stopped by the Greek authorities. They said they would tow us towards a Greek island, and remove the engine from our little zodiac boat. But, in fact, they towed us out of Greek waters and back into Turkish territory, which is illegal – we should have been able to claim asylum in the first EU country we came to.”

After hours adrift in the dark, the whole group was picked up and arrested by the Turkish police. Jobard and Billet were released quickly, thanks largely to their French passports. Two of the group who were under the age of 18 were also released eventually, and went on to complete the journey via Sicily. The remaining migrants – including Jaweed and Rohani – were deported back to Afghanistan, where they face an uncertain future.

“Jawid and Rohani were both arrested by the Taliban when they got home,” Jobard explains. “Rohani was released on condition that he re-join the Taliban as a fighter: a ‘kill-or-be-killed’ situation. Jaweed was released a little later and we tried to make the trip with him again. Unfortunately he was arrested in Iran and is still there. We’re waiting on news about him.”

The journey continues

With Jawid and Rohani’s story locked in stalemate, Olivier Jobard developed a second aspect to his project, looking at the lives of people who have successfully made it to Europe, and how they are integrating into their new life.

© Olivier Jobard/Myop

Rohani and Luqman waiting for the tram, Istanbul, Turkey, 22 May 2013. “I do not like the clothes of women, but I don’t say anything. I like people to do what they want without anyone meddling in their affairs.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF35mm f/1.4L USM lens; the exposure was 1/400sec at f/4.5, ISO 125.

“It’s very hard for these guys when they reach Europe. The EU doesn’t always welcome migrants and life can be hard,” says Jobard. “One of the migrants I followed who made it into Europe is going to have to wait two or three years for a decision on his asylum application. In that time he’s not allowed to work and lives in a cramped room with 10 other migrants. He’s trying to learn French but is getting frustrated and depressed just sitting there – feeling like his life is on hold and he’s wasting time.”

Jobard says that a difficult question that migrants in this position ask themselves is ‘was it worth it?’ “It’s too difficult for them to admit that making the journey might not have been the right thing to do, and that they might have done all of this for nothing. “They still hope,” he says. “They are in a migrant’s state of mind, always running and hiding. That’s what I’m trying to show in this photography – that they are still travelling, even though they’ve reached their destination.”

Telling these stories through photography is something that requires Olivier Jobard to work frugally, with a minimum of fuss. He uses just a single EOS 5D Mark III DSLR and an EF35mm f/1.4L USM prime lens. It’s an approach that lets him not only remain discreet, but also gives his work an extraordinary consistency. He reveals: “I was shooting stills as well as video clips to edit together with Claire’s footage, which is why I took the EOS 5D Mark III.”

He adds: “You can’t take pictures all the time, like you can on many assignments. There were times when I couldn’t get out my camera because it would have given us away as journalists. I just shot every now and again. That is frustrating, but it’s necessary to properly document the situation.”

Jobard and Billet developed complex and convincing cover stories to enable them to work undercover. “We had to pass as migrants, which means lots of waiting and frustration for the photographer,” Billet recalls.

Looking to the future

‘Dream of a Rain of Perfume’ won Olivier Jobard the 2013 Tim Hetherington Grant – a joint initiative of Human Rights Watch and World Press Photo, created in honour of the photojournalist and filmmaker Tim Hetherington killed in Misrata, Libya, in April 2011. The annual award of €20,000 is given to a photographer to enable them to complete projects on a human-rights theme and Jobard intends to use the award to carry on telling the stories of those who risk everything to start a new life. He recalls: “After their deportation we couldn’t do as much with Jawid and Rohani as we wanted, but we do hear from them occasionally, and we will try and complete the trip with them if they make it again.”

© Olivier Jobard/Claire Billet

Please click the image above to view Olivier Jobard and Claire Billet’s film ‘Dream of a Rain of Perfume,’ made with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Biography: Olivier Jobard

Olivier Jobard

Olivier Jobard, 43, has covered many conflicts around the world including Croatia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Colombia and Iraq among others. A member of the Myop Photo Agency, in Paris, France, he specialises in long-term projects on the problems of immigration in Europe and the world. Jobard has won many awards in a 20-year career, including Visa d’or for Magazine at the 2011 Visa pour l’Image international festival of photojournalism, an Emmy Award for a documentary with Media Storm’s Kingsley Crossing in 2007, and first prize in the World Press Photo contest, Contemporary Issues category, 2005.



Showcase

Rohani in front of the ferryman's house, Nangarhar, Afghanistan, 7 April 2013. “The day that the women in my family were killed by Americans I told the Taliban to stop fighting, and I left. When I learned that they wanted to kill me I ran away.” Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF35mm f/1.4L USM lens; the exposure was 1/8000sec at f/1.8, ISO 100.