Kingsley’s Crossing

December 1, 2008

Kingsley’s Crossing is the story of a young Cameroonian who decides to leave behind his country and escape to Europe in order to support his family back home. French photojournalist Olivier Jobard accompanies him during the whole journey, from the moment Kingsley decides to leave home, throughout the crazy journey across the African continent, the life-threatening boat ride across the Atlantic Ocean until he reaches Europe and starts his new life. It is a compelling story about despair, determination, hopes and dreams, but also about the shattering of these hopes and dreams. MediaStorm has published a multimedia version of this photo story, produced by Brian Storm and Eric Maierson, which can be seen here.

According to Brian Storm, Olivier Jobard originally did not plan to edit this story as a multimedia show, which is why there is no on-site audio. However, I believe that this adds to the power of the whole outcome, because he could (and did) concentrate fully on his photography.

Throughout the story, Jobard is extremely close to his subjects. He is not an observer anymore, but he becomes a participant in this perilous journey. He is with them during the whole trip, and neither sandstorms nor fear of robbers nor the dreadful, godforsaken nutshell the group tries to cross the Atlantic in can put him off joining them. He crosses the desert on the back of a truck, along with 35 other people. He sleeps with them under thorn bushes. He is with them when their boat capsizes at night and two people die in the waves, and he is with them when the boat is about to sink in the middle of the ocean and they are rescued literally in the last moment by the Spanish Coast Guard. Thus he is able to deliver photography that is unprecedentedly close to the human drama refugees go through every day. He captures not only the events that are happening in front of his lens. He captures the fear and the despair, the determination and the bravery of the people who are with him.

In this story, Jobard uses only available light and shoots wide-angle, probably even using only one lens. It seems that he tried to keep his gear as limited as possible, which makes sense on a journey as chaotic as this one. The use of available light results in some blurred pictures, especially those of the boat ride at night. These pictures are incredibly powerful and probably convey the desperate atmosphere a lot better than sharp pictures would. They carry a strong reminiscence of Robert Capa’s D-Day images.

Upon presenting the pictures to Brian Storm, president of MediaStorm, Storm recommended Jobard in absence of on-site audio to go and interview Kingsley, confronting him with the photographs of the journey. In this interview, Kingsley sits in front of a white background and recapitulates his whole story in vivid details. This interview is the basis for the film’s audio track. Together, Kingsley and Jobard lead us through the story, step by step, the one in words, the other in pictures. The combination of Kingsley’s voice and those incredible pictures brings the story to vivid life and endows it with an amazing emotional as well as informative power. Along with the few and very carefully used video sequences where you can actually see Kingsley talking, the film brings the viewer extremely close to the narrator.
In addition to the interview, African percussion music underlies large parts of the film and changes its rhythm and time according to the rhythm of the narration, thus emphasizing the very successful interplay of moments of tension and moments of quietness that make a story absorbing.

Jody Sugrue and Vincent Diga contributed elaborately animated graphics to the project. On these recurring maps of Africa, the viewer can follow Kingsley on his insane odyssey across the continent. His disheartening seesaw – traveling across the desert towards the European continent, turning around and moving away from it, once more turning around, being already in viewing distance of the Spanish coast only to travel south again – could probably not be illustrated in a better way.

The last scene of the film is the end of the interview, where Jobard asks Kingsley if he wants to say anything else. Kingsley contemplates for an instant and then says no. The camera stays on him, and he is obviously very agitated. He buries his face in his hands, then silently stands up and leaves the frame. This unusual but powerful ending reflects the feeling that the viewer is left behind with after seeing this incredible story: speechlessness.

All in all, it can be said that Kingsley’s Crossing is an outstanding example of the successful combination of different media. It absorbs the viewer until the very end and leaves a permanent impression. It is concerned journalistic work at its highest level, triggering every kind of reaction from people of all social backgrounds – refugees as well as visual anthropologists – as can be seen in the comments on this film. It creates awareness and thus has the power to contribute substantially to a change of the refugees’ situation. It is – like most of the other films on MediaStorm – a groundbreaking piece of work that demonstrates us where photojournalism is bound to go in future.

Filed under: USA

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