By Ernest Zhanaev

This project tells a six-month photographic story which I started when I applied for asylum in the United Kingdom, wandering across the country while living in hostels or accommodation provided by Home Office. I took these photographs on a smartphone to capture the signs of the surrounding environment I saw. I spotted the signs in the streets of London, Birmingham, Leicester and some of them in the housing rented by Home Office in 2015.

Discovering England by travelling and residing in different places brought me an understanding how people live outside London. Born in the Soviet Union, I see things that are very much familiar but I am also challenged by previously unknown things, unsure of the truth and beliefs within the language and instructions reflected in these signs.

‘Journey Signs’ should tell the viewer that an asylum seekers’ world during the application process is a very narrow one. The signs I chose to capture are not necessarily positive and can lead to anxiety that overwhelms asylum seekers like myself. It is these extremities in the language within such signs that attract the depressed mind squeezed in the everyday circumstances of uncertainty, bureaucracy, and poverty. To me, the tendency to notice only slogans full of negativity reflects the mental state of those who spot them. It made me feel as if I am still an outsider, detached from the real positivity of the environment I have come to live in and narrowing my world into a corridor of signs and words.

Ernest Zhanaev is a human rights writer and consultant based in the UK since 2014. He was instrumental in making the Kyrgyzstan parliament adopt the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and latter to pass legislation for greater financial transparency in electoral law. He also edited English news for the independent Ferghana News covering developments in Central Asia. Now a consultant for international organisations and think tanks, Ernest researches human rights issues in post-Soviet countries specialising on freedom of speech, social and political development.