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Press release

  • 30 January 2008

Lecturer’s photo exhibition focuses on detention centres

The Mosque, Dover Immigration Removal Centre, May 2006 (Melanie Friend)

The Mosque, Dover Immigration Removal Centre, May 2006 (Melanie Friend)

The experience of asylum seekers in UK immigration removal centres is the subject of a new exhibition by photographer and University of Sussex Media and Film lecturer Melanie Friend.

Border Country, which opens this month at Winchester Gallery, Winchester School of Art, (Wednesday 6 February), features institutional interiors and landscape photographs, together with a sound installation, focusing on the experiences of asylum seekers and migrants detained in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) in the UK.

The colourful warmth and richness of Friend's remarkable photographs is poignantly at odds with the austerity of these institutional spaces where people are forced to wait, while their fate is determined by processes beyond their control.

In the four years she spent on the project, Friend, a Senior Lecturer in Photography at University of Sussex, recorded interviews with 11 immigration detainees. Since she began work on the project in 2003, more than 25,000 individuals per year have been held for some period in immigration detention in the UK.

Friend photographed the visits rooms in eight IRCs: Dover, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth (near Heathrow), Lindholme (near Doncaster), Tinsley House (near Gatwick), Campsfield House (near Oxford), Yarl's Wood (near Bedford) and Haslar (near Portsmouth). She also obtained permission to photograph some surrounding landscapes. As a visitor she met asylum seekers and migrants in several IRCs, and was given special access to record interviews with male detainees in Dover, and female detainees in Yarl's Wood.

Border Country (both the exhibition and the accompanying book with its audio CD) presents 75 minutes of voice testimonies by detainees and captures their incisive, poignant and often jarring commentaries on their expectations of life in the UK and their experience of incarceration.

The book comprises essays by Professor of Photography Mark Durden (University of Wales), anthropology researcher Alex Hall (University of Durham) and Melanie Friend, as well as the photographs and an accompanying audio CD.

Friend says: "Asylum seekers and migrants in detention struck me as mostly extraordinarily resilient and perceptive. A Byelorussian man, Andrei, pours out a fluent monologue on the English use of the word 'sorry'; Hamlaoui, an Algerian, sings pop songs of the 1960s with an immigration officer to hold on to some joy; Lillian, who escaped domestic violence in Kenya, reflects philosophically on 'who is more human than the other?'.

"I was fascinated by their analysis and their astute commentary on our culture. As a photographer, I was mesmerised by the visits rooms. Tinsley House visits room, for instance, its apparent civility and yet its austerity, its anonymous comfortable chairs such as we might see in a university common room or a doctor's surgery. However, the seating arrangement is very controlled. The detainee has to sit on the single seat, his or her visitor opposite. The visit, of course, takes place under intense surveillance, as evidenced by the cameras..."

Melanie's previous work includes exhibitions and a book - No Place Like Home: Echoes From Kosovo (Midnight Editions, USA 2001) - reflecting on the decade leading up to the war in Kosovo and its aftermath.

Border Country was first shown at Belfast Exposed Photography, Belfast in autumn 2007. The exhibition can also be seen at the University of the Arts London (Well Gallery, SE1) 6-24 October 2008 and the BCA Gallery, Bedford (late 2009/early 2010).

Notes for editors

  • Melanie Friend will be installing the exhibition at The Winchester Gallery on Tuesday 29 January, and is available for interviews. For details and high-resolution images, please contact Kate Maple 01962 852500 or email
  • Border Country opens at the Winchester Gallery, Winchester School of Art, Hampshire, on Wednesday 6 February 2008, until Friday 29 February 2008. Opening times: Tues-Fri, 10am - 4.30pm. Call 01962 852500 for further details. Entry is free.
  • Border Country is supported by Belfast Exposed Photography, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI), Belfast City Council, Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Arts Council England (ACE), the Research Fund of the School of Humanities, University of Sussex, Fotonet, the University of Southampton, SCAN Media Arts Agency, Spectrum in Hove and Metro Imaging in London. A book of the photographs featured in the exhibition, which includes an audio CD of the exhibition soundtrack (the voices of the immigration detainees) is published by Belfast Exposed Photography and the Winchester Gallery.

For information about Media and Film at University of Sussex, see:

University of Sussex Press officers Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email

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