Border Lives, a Panoramic Essay
In June 2016, Britain voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48%, but Northern Ireland voted by 56% to remain. The frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which runs for 310 miles, is the only border between the UK and the EU. During the Northern Ireland conflict of the latter 20th century, this border was controlled by police and soldiers.
Amid the growing tensions over Brexit and the border, I met and documented people whose work takes them across the frontier. Many expressed fears about the future and the possible return of old divisions.
The most problematic issue with photographing the border is that there is essentially nothing there to photograph. With that as a starting point, the basic concept for the picture essay was to show that uninterrupted space, and to include people who have a direct relationship with the border. And, more broadly, to show them in the landscape with the expanse of the open countryside around them and their place in it. To achieve this I decided to use a panoramic film camera which would offer the widest view available without distorting or warping the horizon. Shooting film again for the first time in almost 20 years would also give the photographs a different look and feel to modern digital cameras, with the colours saturated and borrowed from a different time.
One of the privileges that comes with being a photographer is that it allows you access to people you would not necessarily meet, and it was difficult not to be moved by Betty, Eamonn, John, Brian, Emma, Johnny, Vincent, William and Catriona as I listened to their concerns about Brexit. Each of the subjects photographed were grateful for being allowed a voice, something many people in the province feel they no longer have.
My own memories of the border and the checkpoints are somewhat distant, but I can recall sitting on the back seat of my mother and father’s car wondering whether the raised hand of the guard would either beckon onwards or to stop. The mundaneness of the various checkpoints across the north, the armed soldier with his weapon trained on the car, all seem to have merged into one memory now. When stopped at the border, the question to my father was always the same: ‘Where are you coming from, sir, and where are you going?’ I can’t remember my father ever declaring anything.