Djoubi with his five canine bodyguards: Laura Henno’s best photograph | Photography

I met Djoubi in Mayotte, a French territory off the coast of east Africa. I took this in 2017 when he was 17, although I first started photographing undocumented immigrants in one other French territory within the Indian Ocean, Réunion, for my mission La Cinquième Île (The Fifth Island) in 2009.

Mayotte is roughly 8,000km from Paris. It is a part of the Comoros archipelago between east Africa and Madagascar, which incorporates three different primary islands: Grande Comore, Mohéli and Anjouan. France colonised the archipelago within the nineteenth century with the intention of creating it a sugar plantation. In the Nineteen Seventies, three of the 4 islands voted for independence; Mayotte alone voted to stay connected to France, and has since change into a vacation spot for migrants from the remainder of the Comoros. Most come trying to find better-paid work, however others flee political instability. Despite not having authorized entry to schooling or healthcare, they danger the harmful sea journey to achieve Mayotte – and thus the EU. Migrants face deportation but they proceed to reach yearly. Many have drowned.

Djoubi was born in Mayotte however his dad and mom are undocumented migrants so he’s additionally thought-about “illegal”. Alongside quite a lot of different undocumented boys and males, he’s in a gang who name themselves the bouchemen, a reference to the indigenous bushmen of southern Africa. They reside on the seashore in a banga, a makeshift hut, protected by their herd of canine. Aged from 10 to twenty, they reside and survive on the margins of society. Many are orphans, or arrived on the island with out their dad and mom. Some are alone as a result of their dad and mom have been deported. The Mayotte police typically don’t take note of the youngsters of undocumented migrants.

The first time I travelled to Mayotte was in 2015, following Patron, a younger smuggler and the principle character of my movie Koropa. I wished to develop a sequence about undocumented youngsters on the island, and that’s after I noticed the bouchemen. As a international lady, my relationship with the gang has by no means been straightforward. They have been conscious of the financial disparity between us, and language proved an added impediment – French is the official language of Mayotte, however most individuals communicate native dialects, often Shimaore. Fortunately I met Atou, who has the same historical past to a few of these boys and he turned my assistant and interpreter. I believe the gang loved somebody taking an curiosity in them, and I might typically present them my images.

As in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the gang create their very own group tips. They voted to haven’t any chief however the dominant personalities naturally drove the choices of the group – boys akin to Dakar, who constructed the banga from scratch. Djoubi, Djoe and Sabo have been those who managed and skilled the canine. I might comply with them for 4 or 5 hours daily, generally filming or photographing them however typically merely sharing moments as they loitered across the seashores, or obtained meals from the close by coconut bushes or banana palms. They typically need to steal to feed themselves.

I like this {photograph} due to how Djoubi stands: proudly, and surrounded by his canine. The title of my mission Ge Ouryao! (Why Are You Scared!) is an expression the bouchemen use to impress passersby. It’s a means of poking enjoyable on the native individuals, who regard them as delinquents and concern them. But the expression additionally displays the pressures on the boys to develop up quick, to change into robust as they reside on the fringes of a society that largely rejects them. In Djoubi’s case, it’s unclear whether or not he’ll stay within the gang or handle to seek out work, although the stigma of being an undocumented migrant and boucheman could stop him from integrating into Mayotte life.

I attempt to create photos that upend stereotypes and supply new views, to present again dignity, company and even grandeur to the boys, as they reside in limbo with an unsure future. For me, this photograph additionally displays the broader political scenario and is suggestive of the stress surrounding unlawful immigration in Mayotte at the moment; the fraught postcolonial historical past and the thought of the cinquième île, which for the islanders symbolises France, or the aspiration of changing into French – holding the promise of a greater high quality of life. The means I staged the {photograph} displays the isolation of an island, or archipelago of islands, with Djoubi standing on the rocks – alone, and on the periphery.

Laura Henno’s solo present is on the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, from 15 April to 4 September.

Laura Henno’s CV

Laura Henno.
Photograph: Iris Pavec

Born: Croix, France, 1976.
Trained: Photography on the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels de La Cambre, Brussels, and cinema research at Le Fresnoy, Tourcoing.
Influences: Taryn Simon, Jeff Wall.
High level: “Several, including the Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles in 2018 and my forthcoming exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in April.”
Low level: “Covid, which put many projects on hold.”
Top tip: “Give yourself time.”

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