Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

Posts tagged ‘colour’

Silver jubilee time

Cardiac surgery on a newborn baby, London, 2013. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

On the 14th August 1993, I emerged blinking (and slightly worse for wear) into a brave new world. Little did I imagine that 25 years later I’d be celebrating a quarter of a century of being an independent, freelance photographer.

But that day will always be etched in my memory as the start of an incredible journey. I had taken the decision to leave the security of a staff photographer’s job at the Edinburgh Evening News and now it was up to me to make a go of it. With the help of innumerable people (fellow photographers, journalists, picture editors, friends, family and the thousands of people whom I have encountered along the way), I have managed to survive, somehow, in an industry which has changed beyond recognition in the two-and-a-half decades since I loaded a roll of monochrome film into my Nikon FM2 and began my first freelance assignment – to photograph the beginning of the construction of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Alloa, Scotland.

If someone back then had said to me the words social media, smartphone, digital camera, low-cost airline, Holyrood, AppleMac, autofocus, Brexit, Dolly the sheep or English Premier League, I wouldn’t have had a clue what they were talking about. So much has changed, not just in the world around us, but in the way photographers work. But so much has stayed the same, too. The stories, characters and issues which populate our everyday lives are largely cyclical. The way we choose to illustrate them is still very familiar (many would say too much so) to the way it was back then. Men in suits still rule the world and the old enmities and adversaries have been replaced by new ones. That is not to say there haven’t been amazing strides forward and progress too. I have been lucky enough to see changes in science, technology and medicine through the lens. I have witnessed the ebb-and-flow of politics and the achievements of many sporting heroes and cultural icons too. And shared in the pain and pleasure of everyday life.

When I began my freelance career I was solely a newspaper photographer: that kept me busy all the days of the week I needed to make a good living. The intervening years has seen that industry wither and decline. But with that situation, new possibilities have opened up. Photography is a creative practice, but I didn’t realise how many times I would have to adapt my ways of working to survive and thrive. From moving location to working collectively, it has never been a straight road. All the time, however, I have tried to derive as much fun and enjoyment from making a living from what I love doing. There have been ups-and-downs, good years and bad and countless mistakes and missed opportunities. Some of the assignments I have covered I wished had never happened: bad news sells, unfortunately. But over all, it has been a pleasure and a privilege. To work on all five continents of the world, to travel to some of the planet’s most sparsely-populated and beautiful places and to meet people of all different races, religions and backgrounds – and to photograph them. It’s a dream come true. That’s what has kept me going over the last 25 years, and will hopefully do the same over the next!

In no particular oder of preference or relevance, below here are just a tiny – and random – selection of images culled from the hundreds of thousands of clicks of my shutter. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for everyone’s help, encouragement and love down the years. Finally, if you want to purchase a compendium of my work, I still  have a few of commemorative books left, marking my 20 years working for the Independent newspaper.

Salmon netsman, Scotland, 1998. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

The Queen’s Baton Relay, Lesotho, 2017. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Politician Jacob Rees-Mogg, Scotland, 1997. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Dolly the Sheep, Scotland, 1997. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne in rehabilitation, England, 2016. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nottingham Forest football fans, England, 2015. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Sculptor Andy Scott, Scotland, 2014. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Morning exercise, Beijing, 2012. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Writer Douglas Coupland, Scotland, 2009. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Comedian Ken Dodd, England, 2008. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Foot-and-mouth crisis, England, 2001. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

The remnants of East Germany, 1992. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

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An Independent Eye in Glasgow

My exhibition of photographs commemorating two decades of working for the Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers will go on show in Glasgow on Thursday, March 1, 2018.

The show will be staged at Hillhead Library and is a collaboration between Street Level Photoworks and Oriel Colwyn, the photography gallery based in north Wales which originally curated and premiered the work last year.

The exhibition was inspired by my book entitled An Independent Eye, which was published in March 2016, the month when the newspaper ceased its print publication and became an online-only media outlet.

The show will run until Saturday, April 14 and admission is free. Thank you to Malcolm Dickson (SLP) and Paul Sampson (Oriel) for making this happen.

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On the move in Pakistan

In the dry heat and dust, they are moving. In motion. Going places.

Just an average morning in the historic Punjabi city of Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural capital.

People on the move. Things to do. Quick, quick. Hurry hurry.

© Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

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For a few dollars less

I have seen my fair share of shack strewn shady side streets on this assignment. Some places you expect it: reputations precede most destinations. Other locations it takes you by surprise. But then again, maybe it shouldn’t. Lie back and close your eyes and picture the Bahamas. The endless blue ocean intersecting with gleaming, pristine sands. Palm trees rustle in the breeze. Tourists meander indolently. Danger only lurks in the form of a stray, ripe coconut being pulled by gravity towards your unguarded head. Then open your eyes and find yourself Over the Hill. In Nassau’s back alleys. Amongst the shadow of the wealth which permeates society, but which never reaches the far shore. Drink in the Tip Top bar, where a man darts in, jerks his head back and in an instant a one dollar shot cascades down his throat. Then he’s gone. A small injection of fuel, mainlined to help him through the next part of the day. In the barber’s there a hum of conversation. Local creole patter. The air: Hot. Still. Sweaty. A cloud of talc and a spray of something sweet send me on my way. Past the cycling Rastafarian, handlebars laden with bags of unseen detritus. Cars crashed. Rows of wooden houses. Some windowless, others are churches. Pray for them, my friends. Because they have been forgotten by the God of money. But they have spirit. In the mouths which flash toothless smiles, I see their pride. In the woman who recognises my companion and thanks him for his help and guidance. They are here. Over the Hill. But not beyond it.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

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Sun, sea and salt

I have just finished three exhilarating and fascinating days working in the Turks and Caicos islands. Behind the pristine beaches and holiday hotels peppering the shoreline, there is another world, as is so often the case in tourist destinations. TCI, as the locals call their home, is a disperate and friendly collection of islands, some in the flux of development, others clinging to survival, none more so than Salt Cay, a windswept, ragged landscape of desolate and redundant salt ponds which gave the island past prosperity. Around 70 people still live on Salt Cay, in tumbledown, bleached, ramshackle properties. The sun relentlessly scorches the salinated earth. Trees and bushes are twisted and gnarled. Long rows of dry stone walls indicate the previous presence of British colonialists. But the welcome is warm and the island has an enchantment which made me want to stay beyond my short adventure. TCI people are proud of their country, and indeed for small parchments of land peppered across the Caribbean Sea, it has much to offer. I hope to be back again one day…

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

South Caicos, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Grand Turk, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Grand Turk, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

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Looking inside out in Africa

A photograph is an object which depicts a scene. Whether it is a landscape, a piece of documentary evidence or indeed a portrait, the act of the photographer pointing the camera creates the space into which the visual architecture is designed. The result can be simplified to an equation which equates to the viewer looking at objects created by the practitioner/artist. One-way traffic. So far, so simple.

In his totemic piece of work entitled RFK Funeral Train, American photographer Paul Fusco turned the equation back-to-front. The images depict people standing transfixed at the sight of the train carrying the coffin of recently-murdered politician Robert F. Kennedy as it snaked its way up the American east coast from New York City to the Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1968. It captures a nation gripped by grief and disbelief, that we know. The often blurred images freeze forever a sense of shock and bewilderment. Taken from on board the moving train, Fusco’s vantage point allows him to be in the ascendancy, often looking down to individuals and groups of people as they form a human daisy chain to pay their respects and mourn the sudden loss of hope in a country in the grip of racial and economic tension.

What has always fascinated me about this body of work is this: many of the images are blurred and imprecise, vignettes of reactions, stares and expressions caught on the move. This gives the sense of movement, but it also does something to alter the perception of who is in control of the process. For me, it becomes clearer with each viewing of the images that there is an ambiguity which I cannot resolve. Fusco has the camera, and constructs the scene. But somewhere in there another dynamic takes over. It is almost as if, by freeze-framing these people, the subject of the photograph is re-imagined: it is now Fusco and his deceased travelling companion which are the primary focus, not the people lining the route.

I have always held these images to be ‘other’. A set which created uncertainty in my mind, asking for a deeper exploration of the relationship between the sitter and the artist, the subject and that which objectifies it. I have always had the intention of trying to experiment with this concept and recently on an assignment I found myself in a place and position which allowed me to reignite this interest. For nearly six weeks, I spent many hours travelling as part of police motorcades, often at high-speed, through eight different countries in southern Africa, with time on my hands and space to contemplate the vast and varied rural landscape and the chaotic and diverse urban environment. What became apparent to me, as the sirens wailed and traffic swerved, were the expressions of people, caught unawares, unsuspecting, slightly bewildered by the sudden encroachment into their lives as a convoy of important-looking cars headed by police outriders and other vehicles whizzed by.

As we sped through Malawi, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and finally South Africa, scores, if not hundreds, of people were captured, frozen in time, their expressions betraying personal emotions, unaware of the content or context of what they were witnessing. Photographed without particular fastidiousness, the images presented in Africa Drive-By represent the moment when, like a reflection in a mirror, we see our own consternation, surprise, joy, shock, ambivalence or insouciance captured and turned back on us. They are us. And we are them.

Africa Drive-By is presented as a small-scale, 28-page ‘zine publication, with a limited edition first print run of just 150 copies, available exclusively through this website.

To flick through a copy of Africa Drive-By, click here…

Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Photograph © Colin McPherson 2017, all rights reserved.

 

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The Year in Pictures

A look back at 2016, some of the faces and places I’ve encountered in a momentous year of choice, change and contradiction, through the lens of my camera.

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It’s arrived…

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Copies of my new book with images from various assignments at home and abroad for the Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers, have arrived! This limited edition compendium is available exclusively through my website for just £7.50 plus p&p and is being brought out to coincide with the papers ceasing publication. Get your here copy whilst stocks last….

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Tin foil town in the rain

Port Talbot

The rain seeps down the train window in flecked torrents. There are only five disparate passengers in the carriage, but the combined body heat forms a steamy fog on the glass, obscuring the view as we cut through the lush south Wales countryside between Cardiff and Port Talbot.

Awaiting us is a sodden spectacle. An early Saturday morning wash out. Shoppers are so scarce on the semi-covered pedestrian thoroughfare that one could be forgiven for thinking that some nuclear apocalypse had taken the steel town down. The bright lights of the up-and-at-‘em-early charity shops illuminate the watery pavements. Somewhere behind me, steam evaporating into the Tupperware sky, the vast Port Talbot steelworks belches and hums. An ever-present feature of the landscape, now threatened with the same fate which has befallen other steel plants across the United Kingdom.

Protesting against steel job losses, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Protestors, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Under a sturdy canvas canopy, sandwiched between a giant Tesco and the town’s shopping centre a group of people gather to shows solidarity, gather signatures and mutter darkly under the funereal sky about the fate of the plant. Interspersed between talk of saving the steelworks are more common complaints: “bloody weather. I can’t wait for summer,” intones one woman. “But summer’s just like this,” comes the retort from a man who looks as if he’s spent the morning in the shower, fully clothed. Competing with this throng is a man with a bicycle laden with onions for sale: ‘Last day’ reads a mournful sign attached to the bike.

I decide to grasp the soaking nettle and walk out towards the Tata-owned steelworks, by way of an arterial road which leaves the town behind me like a broody, surly neighbour. There’s not much to see, except the sights and sounds of industry: a faint wheezing noise and steaming plumes swirling towards the watery heavens indicate production continuing. But for how long, in the wake of 700 redundancies, it’s hard to know.

A Port Talbot Town FC supporter. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

A Port Talbot Town FC supporter. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

My next stop is the town’s homely little football club. South Wales football competes bravely against its more illustrious cousin rugby union. Nevertheless, the passion amongst the small, colourfully-hatted supporters of Port Talbot Town FC is tangible as they cheer their team on to a cup win on a pitch which has been lined using baking flour at the referee’s insistence in order that the match may proceed.

I learn that the club was formed by a Scottish family who came south to work in the steel industry. it’s a poignant discovery for me as it forms a link with my photographs from the project The Fall and Rise of Ravenscraig which I opened at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre two days previously. The parallels between Motherwell and Port Talbot are striking. Let’s just hope that their fates are not the same and that Port Talbot can survive the loss of part of its major industry with less damage and despair that engulfed Motherwell when Europe’s largest hot strip mill was closed in 1992.

Disused cinema, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Disused cinema, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

I’m wished well and sent on my way by smiling football fans. Their team has won three-nil. A small slit in the sky reveals a short pause in the rain, however, it proves to be just a hiatus between downpours. By the time I board the train back to Cardiff, Port Talbot is fast disappearing into a gloomy gloam. Here’s hoping the sun is shining in more ways than one tomorrow.

Under the M4 motorway, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Under the M4 motorway, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Advertising food, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Advertising food, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Window display, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Window display, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Woman with umbrella, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Woman with umbrella, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

View across Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

View across Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Hen party, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Hen party, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Back lane, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Back lane, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

The steelworks at Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

The steelworks at Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

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Helping hands

Refugees at the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales (LaGeSo), Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Refugees at the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales (LaGeSo), Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

This is a period of political and social change in Germany. Voices from the Right have been loud in denouncing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door refugee policy. There have been violent attacks on individual asylum seekers and the places where they are living. Away from cosmopolitan and multiracial cities such as Berlin, local peoples’ fear of immigration polarises opinion and causes concern. On the other side, there is a pride that Germany is leading the world in its response to the refugee crisis and allowing people from war zones such as Syria, Iraq and north Africa a place of safety and the opportunity to rebuild shattered lives.

The volunteer army which assembled spontaneously last summer and has continued its work throughout the long, bleak winter months came together largely through social media. Without a developed charity sector in Germany, it was left to people to collaborate, share ideas, pool resources and skills and set to work organising collections of clothes and other essentials, provide frontline medical care and develop networks of social care which afford refugees the chance to participate in everyday activities, such as trips to the cinema, playing sport or having access to German language courses and other education.

Refugees queue for toiletries, LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Refugees queue for toiletries, LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

There is still a need for help with the basics, especially during the freezing German winter. Whilst there has been a drop off in numbers volunteering to help, their activities have become more organised and professional, which in turn is taking some of the pressure off. And as the German government announces a toughening and tightening of the rules allowing people into the country, the focus will slowly turn towards integrating those who have arrived over during 2015.

In the meantime, the volunteers continue their work, unheralded. It’s hard to know numbers involved, but one website talks of 36,000 volunteers who have contributed 112,000 working hours across Germany. And that’s likely to be just a snapshot, as a trawl through Facebook reveals individuals, friends, groups and organisations offering all types of help and support. What is in no doubt is that it is people of all ages and backgrounds who are involved, across the length and breadth of Germany.

As Germany comes to terms with the consequences of its government’s policy of welcoming and accommodating almost one million refugees who have found sanctuary in the country over the last year, I met and talked to a number of volunteers whose mission has been to help and assist those fleeing war and persecution and who have found themselves in Berlin.

Each volunteer spoke about their determination to “do the right thing” and how they felt it was a moral obligation for people across the Western world to offer a safe haven and support to men, women and children many of whom have arrived in Germany following traumatic and harrowing journeys from their native lands.

A refugee waiting for his number to be called at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

A refugee waiting for his number to be called at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Here, five young, creative Berliners talk about their experiences of those remarkable months when the face of Germany began to change forever.

Monique Fritzsche, 28, a textile designer from Berlin started volunteering in summer 2015 as the first wave of refugees came to the city. She is currently involved with a group called We Picknick, cooking and handing out food for newly-arrived refugees who have not yet registered with the authorities and therefore have no entitlement to state assistance.

Refugees in Berlin“Getting involved was all my own initiative. In August I was at home ill, lying on the sofa and watching all the television footage of the refugees arriving in Germany. I thought to myself: ‘It’s time to do something.’ You cannot just be a spectator.

I put some clothes into an IKEA bag and went to LaGeSo, the administration facility for health and social welfare here in Berlin, where thousands of refugees were arriving to be registered. The place was full of asylum seekers and volunteers. As it was the holidays, there were students and even school pupils all helping out. I started by sorting out clothes and other items which had been donated. But that felt insufficient. So I began to work more directly helping in a more hands-on way. I was really scared to start with. The fear came from not knowing what to expect. And from the language barrier too. I soon realised that I could communicate using sign language and that the refugees were really thankful.

I remember the first time I saw refugees coming off the buses which brought them to Berlin. What made an impression on me was that here they were arriving without any possessions. No luggage, no suitcases or rucksacks or anything. I saw young kids on their own and thought: ‘where is your mama?’

Later, through Facebook, I got involved with We Picknick, a volunteer group established to feed newly-arrived refugees who have not yet been registered and so don’t qualify for any food or meals. We meet at the weekends in the park opposite LaGeSo and helping there feels like being part of a little family. You are never asked: ‘how often do you do this?’ or: ‘what job do you do?’ It’s all irrelevant because in that moment you are helping so everyone is equal. People are so supportive and tell you how cool it is that you are helping out. Then there’s the atmosphere with the refugees. You should not expect too much. You don’t go there to get some kind of award or official recognition – that’s certainly not what I want. I mean, many refugees are so ashamed to be in this situation, taking handouts of food. But the reward for me is just to hear them say: ‘thank you’ or: ‘that’s great’ to you – that’s the greatest compliment you can get from these people.

I believe Germany can cope with this influx of refugees. They will integrate into society. Yes, it will take time and it will be difficult but it will happen. So it’s important that we carry on volunteering.”

Monique Fritzsche volunteering at We Picknick, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Monique Fritzsche volunteering at We Picknick, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Finn Pelke, 33, an assistant film director from Berlin works up to three days per week as a volunteer sorting boxes of clothes and other items donated to Kreuzberg Hilft, established in the summer of 2015 by a group of citizens to help alleviate the refugee crisis in the city.

Refugees in Berlin“I think Germans, given our history, like to see ourselves as open to the world. After the 2006 World Cup here there was a lot of talk about how welcome the world felt coming here and how well it all went. Even seeing the German flag being waved in a friendly manner was a good thing.

Kreuzberg is a particularly mixed area of Berlin. There’s more openness to outsiders and refugees here. If you live in more rural places or somewhere which has a population of a couple of thousand then I totally get it if people are worried about the impact of 500 refugees suddenly coming into that community. The impact is going to be far greater than 50,000 coming to Berlin with its population of 3.5 million. But there are examples of small villages where refugees are now contributing by, for example, opening new businesses. Germany’s population is getting older and older and many people are saying it’s a good thing that new people are coming in. There’s always two sides to it and of course there’s fears that it could all be too much to cope with.

If you want to see problems then there are problems, but if you want to see the possibilities and chances then they are also there. And I prefer to stick to the positive side.”

Volunteer Finn Pelke sorting boxes at Kreuzberg Hilft, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Volunteer Finn Pelke sorting boxes at Kreuzberg Hilft, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Tobias Muhlbacher, 35, a volunteer doctor working with newly arrived refugees at LaGeSo, the Berlin administration facility for health and social welfare. A trained children’s doctor, he has been working as a volunteer two to three days per week since October 2015.

Refugees in Berlin

“I am here because I believe that these refugees, many of whom have undertaken such difficult and dangerous journeys have a right to good care, especially good medical care.

Many people have had to wait for weeks, months even to complete their registration and are therefore only entitled to the emergency treatment we give here at LaGeSo. As a paediatrician I am particularly concerned that the children are looked after, although if there are no children to examine at a particular time, I’ll see anyone who needs a diagnoses.

One problem we have at the moment is that refugees have to re-register again after three months in order that we can continue to provide care for them. This often means sick or injured people queueing up overnight in freezing conditions in order to be first to register the following morning. That’s not a nice picture.

The atmosphere amongst the medical team is good. There is now a mix of volunteers and permanent staff from a local hospital but we all cooperate as we are all here because we want to be. There’s no sense of competition.

I will continue working with the refugees alongside my regular hospital job and will make myself available when the need arises for as long as necessary.”

Tobias Muehlbacher, 35, examining an injured refugee at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Tobias Muehlbacher, 35, examining an injured refugee at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Berlin-based professional storyteller Britta Wilmsmeier, 37, helped establish the Phoenix-Gruppe of volunteers with fellow artists, teachers and other people in the creative industries to utilise art, therapy and cultural connections to reach out to refugees.

Refugees in Berlin“I heard about all these refugees and thought that no-one would ever choose as a family to do such a journey without a good reason. I was thinking about these women, these mothers, sitting in there with hundreds of other people, with no privacy. I thought one way of keeping them sane and keeping them entertained – which is also important – is by telling them stories.

A colleague and I developed a story which we tell to audiences in German but have objects and use gestures and sounds to communicate. It’s not only about them learning German. We want to learn their language too. It’s a dialogue we want, so that they feel we are interested in them too. Storytelling is a very good way to give people stability because the story always comes back to something good in the end.

People are happy to have a concrete reason to help. We are safe and secure here and have enough generally, so we are happy to share what we have. Through my storytelling, I can help them in my own way. I can give them some sort of release. It’s what these people need: some hope, a spark of hope.”

 

Britta Wilmsmeier giving a performance to children in a bookshop in Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Britta Wilmsmeier giving a performance to children in a bookshop in Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Born in Mexico, Hector Marroquin, 32, is a music composer and volunteers at Kreuzberg Hilft, where he acts as the group’s press officer. In addition, he helps out at a home for asylum seekers and accompanies groups of young Syrians on trips and outings such as to concerts and rock climbing.

Refugees in Berlin“I contacted Kreuzberg Hilft and said I just want to be part of the team. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I just wanted to help.

It got really big, really quickly. Within one month from September 2015 we had around 40 refugee houses and homes where we would drive to every day to deliver things like clothes and other essential items.

I could see I was really helping but at the same time it wasn’t enough for me. When we were helping the refugees I was only spending something like 10 minutes with these people and then not seeing them again until the next time we turned up. I wanted to know who they were as they just seemed like normal, cool people to me. Of course they needed our things, our money, but most of all they just needed time with people like me, rather than with the authorities, or officials or the police. So I started to work at a refugee house and now I divide my time one-third composing, one-third at Kreuzberg Hilft and one-third at the refugee home.

In the home there are 54 boys, all here without parents, or family or friends. So they are here alone, just waiting for their government interviews which will decide if they can stay in Germany. This might take anything up to six months. In the meantime, by taking them to concerts or sporting events – normal free-time activities for young people – it will help them integrate into German life if they are allowed to stay here.

People have come here because they want to start a new life. They want to be part of Germany. They want to integrate.”

 

Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

 

A litter bin decorated with names of volunteers working LaGeSo), Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

A litter bin decorated with names of volunteers working LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees queueing at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees queueing at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees showing footage of their accommodation at Tempelhof airport, Berlin. Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees showing footage of their accommodation at Tempelhof airport, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

A sign taped to a lamppost at LaGeSo, Berlin. Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

A sign taped to a lamppost at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees choosing clothes donated by the public, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees choosing clothes donated by the public, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

An official struggles to cope with the demand for services, Berlin Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

An official struggles to cope with the demand for services, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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