Claudia Leisinger

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One of the first houses in Bangladesh, a Roma Settlement on the outskirts of Novi Sad that got access to the water mains. Novi Sad 2018.

Gilbana, mother of five, is the furnace of this “tribe”. She works tirelessly from dawn to dusk. At times she leaves the family for months seeking better-paid season work. Here she chops down an old wooden window frame to start a fire in their stove. Merošina, 2018.

Kristina pours water from the well onto her father’s legs, so he can wash himself. All nineteen wash themselves outside with water from the well. Sometimes they heat it up on the stove and wash themselves in a tub. None of the houses have indoor toilets yet. They use two makeshift toilets in the nearby woods instead. The current toilet area is in a little wood just a few meters above the houses. The two toilets are very basic - a hole in the ground with a couple of pieces of wood laying across it for the feet to stand on. Merošina, 2018.

A very typical interior wall decoration of a Roma family home: memories of the ancestors hang on the wall, however there is not enough money to buy a frame. Novi Sad 2018.

Dino and Marija listen to a mutual friend talk about employment and his life abroad in Germany. Finding employment is one of the biggest problems for Roma and Serbian people alike. Merošina, 2018.

Kristina's life hangs in the balance: having just finished her mandatory schooling, which she excelled at, she has realised that her family doesn’t have enough money for her to attend secondary school. They can't afford the bus fare, lunch or book money that a school further away entail. Without that Kristina is destined to become a labourer like her mother, who sometimes has to works for as little as 5 € day. Merošina, 2018.

Gilbana’s neighbours complain that her new bathroom window is too big. EHO project manager Sladjana (in white T-shirt) knows that dealing with these jealousy-driven arguments head-on is an important part of her job. Merošina, 2018.

Slavisa, Daliborka’s husband, works as shepherd. One of the biggest issues facing the younger generation of Roma is the lack of social mobility, caused by inequality in education and a high unemployment rate, but also very clear social exclusion and open racism, which I have witnessed many times during my stay. Merošina, 2018.

Gilbana and Balkaza collect tomatoes from a Serbian farmer just down the road. Merošina, 2018.

Doily and flowers in Balkaza’s room. Merošina, 2018.

The walls of the café within Billingsgate Market is hung row after row with photographs of past porters. London 2012.

John Schofield, fish porter for 30 years. He feels very strongly that the porters have a longstanding tradition here in London. He cannot understand why the City Corporation of London and the London Fish Merchants Association not only wanted to strip porters off their license, which effectively meant that they would loose their jobs, but also wanted in general to deny them any other work within the market. London 2012.

Martin Bicker, fish porter for 24 years. His father was a fish porter too. He explains the reasons behind the licence in the first place. One only received a porter licence after a successful apprenticeship and after one has proven to be trustworthy to handle fish worth a lot of money. London 2011.

Nick Wilson, fish porter for 12 years. As father of two small children he is worried about the future. Billingsgate, London 2011.

Business in the cafe within Billingsgate market Open from four o'clock in the morning, it is the heart of the market: Loud laughter, intense discussions between porters, merchants and customers, tea, coffee, fried fish and a fry-up, it is all there. London, 2011.

Micky Durrell fish porter for 45 years. Porters are said to be the heart and soul of the market. That particularly applies to Micky. His voice and the following laughter can be heard all over the market. He loves to tell funny stories of past adventures like when the porters used to stage fake fistfights in the café for amused spectators. London 2011.

Jack Preston was the last porter ever to be licensed. He worked for 2 years before porters were officially made redundant on the 28th of April 2012. Billingsgate, London, 2012.

Jeff Willis, fish porter for 25 years. He can’t imagine working anywhere else. The market is all he has ever known. London 2012.

Brett Singers has been working at Billingsgate fish market for 3 years as a shop boy. Originally he wanted to become a porter like his grandfather Edwin Singers. Billingsgate, London 2011.

The best part of work is now - Brett and Billy have a cigarette.

Claudia Leisinger

Based in London since 2002, I spent my early childhood in India and Bhutan, before returning to my native Switzerland in 1980.

I completed an MA course in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication in 2007. My final project “The Changes Within: Bhutan Between Monarchy and Democracy” was a story documenting Bhutan’s shift towards its first-ever democratic elections. It was later published in the NZZ (Neue Zuercher Zeitung).

I am especially drawn to subjects of migration, employment and environment; to stories and situations of imminent change. Looking at ordinary people, institutions and geographical areas on the cusp of events that, though sometimes appear subtle, can often have huge and wide-ranging effects on their lives or status.

“The Last of the Billingsgate Fish Porters” documented how 150 men lost their much-loved jobs when the City of London Corporation enforced the removal of a centuries-old tradition to ultimately increase profits. The bigger story is the loss of working-class manual labour and the attached communities all across Europe and the effects this has on our society.

The resulting multimedia piece on the Billingsgate Porters was published in the Guardian UK, shown at Night Contact, London’s first Multimedia Festival as well as published on Foto8. It was exhibited in a solo exhibition at the Maz Galerie in Luzern, Switzerland and I won several awards with this body of work.

My current project Europe Revisited: Building a Future for the Roma’ focuses on a small number of Serbian Roma families, traditionally ostracised, but now taking part in a national (and E.U. membership-driven) initiative to improve their housing standards.  With it I want instigate debate on bigger, more complex questions about integration of outsider communities, and the distribution of shared but finite resources and services.

Alongside these projects I work as freelance photographer and filmmaker for NGOs, Think tanks, foundations, magazines, newspapers and commercial clients.

Photography offers me the means to still my insatiable curiosity about the world around me and helps me to make sense of it.



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