In September 2016, Jimmy spent a month volunteering in Lesvos and Chios—Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, where refugees from regions of conflict and instability in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia arrive daily in dinghies from Turkey. Numerous efforts were made to better the daily life of displaced communities on the islands, yet the challenges facing refugees left a lasting impression on Jimmy. Through conversations with both those living in and outside the camps, he learned people were frustrated about being stuck in transit.
I am a graphic artist and urban ecologist, Jimmy is a photographer. We met in Bombay in 2016 and realised we were both obsessed with the sea, twerking and compost! We began sailing off the coast of Bombay together in an old Seabird. Back on land, we spent hours in our flat-turned-greenhouse feeding the soil with delicious homemade compost and watching red amaranth seeds sprout.
After many experiments with growing vegetables and documenting our personal, professional and political interests through photography and writing, we realised it was time to bring these passions together and share them with more people. And so, we started A-1, an itinerant publishing house.
A few months later, we got Foxy, a boat we would sail from France to Greece, our new home and HQ for A-1 Publishers, for now, a not-for-profit floating platform for publications around the themes of landscapes, borders, coastal ecology and geopolitics, formed on the principles of collaboration, knowledge-sharing and eating well.
We complement our publications with participatory design projects and put forth resources for people and landscapes to share their stories in tangible ways. Each publication is unique—informed by the places we work in and the projects we are part of. Our books refrain from objectifying situations, offering the reader an opportunity to re-engage with their prejudices, assumptions and beliefs.
We spent last winter planning our journey; preparing our boat and ourselves for the navigation from Frontignan in Southern France to Lesvos in the Aegean Sea, where we would begin our first project: Growing in Greece.
Each day on the water brought forth new challenges. We found ourselves in a sea slowly waking up from the winter—cold, grey rain; tormentous swells; eye-watering winds bringing spring to the Mediterranean basin. Faced with a small spell of storms and gales, we were stuck for almost a week in the heart of Camargue, in the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, watching waves reach into the harbor over the break-water, the gusts whipping tangles into the rigging of our boat. When the weather calmed down, we blessed our journey at the shrine of St. Sarah, patron saint of the Gypsies, before heading onwards to Marseille.
Sailing gives us the opportunity to observe water, to understand its colours and movements. As the Rhone arrives into the Mediterranean against the near-dystopian industrial background of Fos-sur-Mer, we found the deep azure seawater gently mixing into the milky, mint green of river, creating distinct topographies on a fluid landscape. As we sailed across the Calanques, we found the limestone cliffs moulded by the waves into cavities; here, as the water mixes with the soft rock surfaces, it gently eats away at the land.
As we moved across steadily towards Italy, the winds often in our favour, we met four days of grey, blinding downpours—fortunately accompanied by our dear friends Ludo and Amelie. We reached San Remo at night, enjoying the warmth, the hints of spring and summer found in wild flowers blossoming along roadsides. We found a beautiful hillside botanic garden, home to an impeccably curated collection of desert plants, and unknowingly invited ourselves to a Brazilian birthday party at tiny first floor cafe in a tall apartment building up a small hill in the city.
Saying goodbye to San Remo and our friends with hands stained in a variety of gelato flavours, we then sailed south across the Mediterranean to the Isola d’Elba, crossing miles of darkness on a windy, moonless night, both of us taking turns sleeping as the other made sure our sails were set right and that we were following the correct path. The morning sunrise welcomed us to the north cape of Corsica in the distance. Reaching the island, we spent a day resting before setting sail towards the western coast of Italy towards Napoli.
Each harbour has its own character and the Isola d’Elba was as peaceful as Napoli was electric. As soon as we reached Napoli, we found ourselves in a mess of motor-boats, towering elegant buildings and hot air, the shrill buzzes of scooters layered over the voices of people in the streets and music from cafes. The city dances and walking its streets, we found ourselves in the midst of a constant party--one that has neither end nor beginning; with an abundance of drinks and music and delicious things to eat. As we sailed, we spoke of the things we missed (often food from India!) and upon arriving to Napoli, stumbled something that was on the top of that very list--a good prawn curry. While we imagined our first meal in Italy after four days at sea to include something more Mediterranean, the Sri Lankan restaurant we found ourselves in was a pleasant surprise.
After Napoli, we continued south in the Tyrrhenian Sea through the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Reggio Calabria towards Crotone, where we would cross the Ionian Sea into Greece. Reading about the strait before we crossed through, we found stories of whirlpools and legends--Homer writes of Scylla, a six-headed monster waiting to devour sailors and Charybdis, a mythical sea-monster. Whilst we saw and felt the whirlpools, we were more fascinated by the two-headed ferries crossing from Sicily to Italy across the straits, the towering electric pylons that were once the tallest in the world, and the swell that seemed seem to get higher as the wind started to drop just as we passed through the straits.
We arrived in Greece on the 11 of May, after 42 days of sailing—crossing the Ionian Sea, led by a luminous moon rise laying a path of light across the deep black water. The next morning, dolphins leapt through the waves and the wind blew seafoam and spray onto us. We often remembered the hundreds of people making the same journey in tiny dinghies, mostly finding themselves in detention-centers with endless new barriers. When I think back to the sudden spring storm that marked our arrival to Greece, hot southern winds crashing waves over the boat and onto us, I wonder what it might be like to face these same seas in overcrowded boats, perhaps without knowing how to swim or sail.
The intention of our project was to use gardening as a tool for people to build a relationship with the land they live on regardless of the duration they might be there for. However, this naturally extends to our boat, and for many of our friends here--whether from Pakistan, Cameroon or Iran Kurdistan--sailing and swimming with us is also a time to share their stories about crossing to Lesvos from Turkey, re-discovering the joys of water and the boat in a more positive light.
We set up our first garden at One Happy Family, a community centre thirty minutes on foot from Moria, an overcrowded former military base turned camp with 6000 residents. You can read more about our early days in Mytilini, the people we've encountered, our progress in the garden and the need for empowering social spaces over on our journal.
Working on the land together, we are closer to the soil and one another. Sharing a communal experience of gardening, we build bonds with those working around us and the plants we care for. Simultaneously, we reclaim agency over our bodies by understanding the nutrition that our harvest provides us with and the labour we put into cultivating it through the season. Furthermore, the islands are home to diverse groups of people, each with their own recipes, understanding of plants and herbal medicine. Bringing together these skills, flavours and knowledge could lead to a positive new intercultural dialogues.
How to support A1 Publishers:
Order a print from their photo catalogue, all shot in medium-format by Jimmy Granger.
Buy their publications or donate directly to A-1, a registered nonprofit, by getting in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org