£171
pledged of £15,000pledged of £15,000 goal
4
backers
Funding Unsuccessful
The project's funding goal was not reached on Sat, September 15 2018 1:49 PM UTC +00:00
£171
pledged of £15,000pledged of £15,000 goal
4
backers
Funding Unsuccessful
The project's funding goal was not reached on Sat, September 15 2018 1:49 PM UTC +00:00

About

  • Borderlands - a photographic exploration of cultural identity on European borders
Britain's 'hard' border with Europe
Britain's 'hard' border with Europe

As an island, Britain's coast is its physical border. Indeed, the border facing Europe at Dover, dramatic as it is, has always been presented as an iconic image; both welcoming and repelling foreigners. Now, with Brexit looming and populism and nationalism on the rise in Europe, borders are going up both physically and mentally and the freedom of movement that we have enjoyed for many years and which has made our continent cohesive and accessible, seems under threat. So instead of retreating behind the fastness of the White Cliffs and pulling up the drawbridge, I want to venture out to some European borderlands to investigate who we are as Europeans.

The Borderlands Project explores concepts of cultural and national identity in selected areas of Europe where historical and political borders have either changed or been fluid due to war or politics or a combination of both.

The intention is to undertake a photographic exploration of the landscape and architecture of these areas, as well as the people belonging to the minority groups on each side of the border, to discover how they identify, culturally, socially and possibly also politically. 

Does the architecture change? Are there any signs in the landscape to indicate that we are now in Germany or Spain, or Greece, even though the border is only short distance away? Are there different farming methods? What do people eat? Are people bilingual? Do they identify bi-culturally or mono-culturally? Do the interiors of people's homes reflect their inhabitants' cultural roots? These are just some of the questions that pique my curiosity and that I hope get answers to.

The result of the project will become a photobook with text, an accompanying exhibition and audio based on my research and informal encounters. 

I have identified three 'Borderlands'

Denmark/Germany (Sønderjylland/

Spain/France (the Pyrenees including Catalonia & the Basque lands)

Germany/Czech Republic (Sudetenland/Bohemia)

There are many other fascinating European borderlands that I could also have chosen to visit, and indeed, I have noted two more below, however, I have chosen these three simply because I have been there and already have some prior knowledge of them. 

I have recently visited Denmark/Germany and part of the French/Spanish border to research and take test shots, some of which are included here.

Another element is the writing. As I have researched the project, it has become more and more evident that there will be more writing than originally envisaged as each image will have a story behind it as well as the human stories that will emerge as I meet, interview and photograph the people who live there.

Denmark/Germany

This will be the first, because I lived a large part of my adult life in Denmark, speak the language fluently and have family and friends there.

I have always been interested in history and first became curious about the issue of cultural identity when I was living in Denmark, where the Danish minority in the north of Germany cling fiercely onto their 'Danishness'. There are historical and political reasons for this as I explain in very general terms below. However, until relatively recently, I had not given much thought to the fact that there had to be a similar German minority on the Danish side. Of course there is! How could I not have realised this? So, in essence, this is the origin of Phase 1 of the Borderlands project - my desire to dig deeper into the history of the country I called home for almost 30 years and its relationship with its much larger neighbour to the south.

A bit of history:

Up until the Second Schleswig War of 1864, the area now divided between South Schleswig in Germany and South Jutland (Sønderjylland) in Denmark was the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein and was largely ruled by the Danish king who was also Duke of Holstein. Following the war of 1864, in which the Danes were soundly beaten; a defeat compounded by a series of disastrous policy decisions by the then Danish government, the border with a soon to be unified Germany was moved up well into the Jutland peninsula. Denmark thus lost approximately one third of its land area and the Danes of this part of the country suddenly found themselves in Germany. 

Following the First World War, in which many Danes from what is once again South Jutland, fought on the German side, the border was moved back to its present day position. But it was never a heavily defended barrier and was once again easily crossed by German forces on 9 April 1940 and Denmark became an occupied country until the end of the Second World War in 1945.

Thus, since 1864 and through two world wars, ethnic Danes and Germans were left stranded, as it were, on either side of the border, even though many of them had been living there for generations. In 2018, although, like other internal EU borders it no longer requires a passport to travel from one country to the other, the Danish and German ethnic minorities still exist on both sides, because people tend to like to stay where they have been for generations. So, how do they feel about being, as it were, indigenous foreigners? How do they think and how do they maintain their cultural identity - or do they?

As noted above, this is my first Borderland and here are some images.

Rudbøl lake seen from the German side.
Rudbøl lake seen from the German side.

The marsh landscape of the Danish/German border between Rudbøl and Tønder. We drove along the road that runs parallel to the lake to the next border crossing with Denmark just south of Tønder and re-entered there. No passports required and not even a customs post or boom to prevent us from traversing the bridge. 

Farm buildings in Germany on the border with Denmark.
Farm buildings in Germany on the border with Denmark.

This is typical of the landscape on the western end of the Danish/German border close to the North Sea; big skies, water and lots of space between the isolated farms.

Derelict boathouse on the river Schmale in Germany
Derelict boathouse on the river Schmale in Germany

The Schmale is a small river that leads off Rudbøl Lake. The Danish/German border runs down the middle of the lake which also feeds the small river Vidå in Denmark. In turn, the Vidå empties its waters into the North Sea.

Jels Lake in the south of Jutland, Denmark
Jels Lake in the south of Jutland, Denmark

This was the day before the previous images were taken. It snowed heavily in Kolding and we were almost snowed in but managed a quick drive in the afternoon. Converted this to black and white because it occurred to me that this scene probably hasn't changed in over 100 years... and 100 years ago, this was part of Germany. The next day day, the snow was largely gone.

Notes on the other borders in the Borderlands Project

I have written a little about the Danish part of the project above as an illustration of some of the text that will appear in the book and accompany the exhibition. I will ultimately do the same for the two borderlands noted below

France/Spain (Catalonia, the Pyrenees and the Basque country)

The French/Spanish border mostly follows the natural line of the Pyrenees and although the border has not moved too much for centuries, it remains a contentious area, particularly on the Spanish side and especially at this time. On the eastern side there is a strong sense of Catalan identity that dates back to the early Middle Ages, when the Principality of Catalonia was set up as a buffer zone against the incursions of the Moors. On the Atlantic coast, the Basque Country is an official European Autonomous Community that straddles the Spanish/French border and has its own ancient language. In 1978 the community was given the status of 'nationality' within Spain. Readers who grew up in the 60s and 70s will remember the terrorist organisation ETA who waged an unofficial are against the Spanish state and only recently decided to stop fighting.

On my latest trip I visited the middle area, south west of Toulouse - roughly the same area I visited in 2011, to stay with friends. Unfortunately, we were dogged by bad weather - the worst since 1969, the locals said. However, what follows is an extract from my notebook - an example of the style of writing you may expect to find in the photobook, as well as some images taken on on one of the few fine days, when we crossed over into Spain.

Towards the border (notebook extract from the Pyrenees)

Finally, the weather cleared up (slightly) and we set off down the D929 which the map said would take us straight to the French/Spanish border. Once you're on the other side of Lannemezan the mountains appear , today shrouded in cloud - it looks like there's weather where we're heading. At the moment, I'm wondering what the border crossing will be like, as I assume it will be somewhere up among the peaks where the snow is still evidently lying on the upper slopes. Then a sign for the Aragnouet-Bielsa tunnel appears and looking at the map, I can see that I haven't done my homework because the border is somewhere in the middle of this 3km long stone corridor that slices through the Iberian and Eurasian tectonic plates which seem to collide precisely beneath the Pic du Midi.

As we drive, the landscape changes from the rich agricultural lands to the north and west of Toulouse to a more alpine one of smaller fields and hillier terrain. We pass through small, attractive villages, usually with the ubiquitous WWI memorial to the glorious dead, with a 'poilu' either bowing his head in respect or in action hurling a grenade or lunging forward with his bayonet. I have had this feeling before, when I was in Lille and Ypres - where one might expect it, given their proximity to the battlefields, but sometimes there still seems to be a pall of sadness over the landscape, as if the terroir has never forgotten its sons who fell at Verdun or the Aisne. It was further brought home at the house of a friend with whom I was staying who discovered the tombstone of one of the relatives of the farm who died in 1918 'pour la France' lying in the barn, apparently never having been erected in its rightful place. She had it cemented into the wall of the restored barn as a memto mori. Quite poignant, especially as the local rumour is that after WWII, the locals wouldn't speak to the owner of the farm as he was suspected of having collaborated with the Germans. One wonders why.

Mort pour La France
Mort pour La France

Passing through the pretty town of Sarrancolin, we noticed a sign to the historic medieval village centre and photographed a little there and in the slightly larger town of Arreau. Both towns had fine examples of both medieval and late renaissance buildings as well as the characteristic narrow streets and half-timbered houses with the overhanging first floor, which are also common in the remaining medieval buildings in England. We owe much to the French, including many of our historic buildings!

The medieval streets of Sarrancolin

Closer to the border you are entering into ski country and we passed through the unimposing town of St Lary, which was constructed mainly as a ski centre. An interesting and possibly apocryphal story, however, is that traditionally the sunny side of the mountain with the best pasture was apparently always left to the eldest son and the youngest ones got the other sides with the more rocky terrain. The final irony is, however, that as skiing became popular over the past 100 years or so, it has been the younger sons who have cashed in on this and made money either by selling their land or by developing resorts.

We then plunged into the tunnel and went from brilliant sunshine in France to rain in Bielsa on the Spanish side. It didn't help the rather drab and austere architecture of the town that the rain made it even greyer and drabber. However, I felt that my unproven theory that architecture changes on the other side of the border was slightly vindicated as the buildings did look much more utilitarian than in France. 

Spanish mountain architecture seems even more austere in the rain
Spanish mountain architecture seems even more austere in the rain

In an attempt to escape the rain we decided to give it one last push 30km on to Ainsa, which a quick Google revealed is a 'magnificent example of medieval urban development' - so that sounded hopeful.

And Ainsa, the former capital of the old kingdom of Aragon didn't disappoint. Again though, a much more practical and austere building style than in France, perhaps due to the fact that in the Middle Ages, when much of the old town and the fortress were built, the kingdoms of northern Spain were perpetually at war with the Moors.

Sadly, as dusk was approaching, photography was difficult and we didn’t want to drive over the mountains in the dark, so were obliged to set off after only about an hour in the town. Definitely a place to return to.

Escaping the Pyreneean mountain rain to Ainsa and its beautiful lake
Escaping the Pyreneean mountain rain to Ainsa and its beautiful lake

Once over the Pyrenees, we made out way back as far as Arreau before hunger announced itself and we found ourselves looking for a place to eat. At 8.45 pm, the only show in town seemed to be a small place called La Crêpe d'Aure, which we drove past at least twice going: “Maybe….” then “Nah…” before my friend who was the hungriest took an executive decision, swung the car into the carpark by the rushing river and we piled in, to be amazingly and extremely pleasantly surprised by perfect no nonsense French cooking and a friendly and busy server who really knew her oignons. A perfect end to a good days photography. Not the best weather but I got a feel for the architecture and landscape, which is the diametrical opposite to my flat, watery and reedy Danish Borderland.

Back in France, dinner awaits.
Back in France, dinner awaits.

Germany/Czech Republic (Sudetenland/Bohemia)

Most people with any knowledge of modern history know about the annexation of the Sudetenland prior to WW2 but until I drove to Prague from Denmark a couple of times in the 90s and also worked in Bohemia, I hadn't realised that large parts were in what had been both the Sudetenland and also East Germany. Then I began to read about the complex history of this region and the expulsion, at various points, of both Czechs and Germans caught up in the tides of war and politics. The right of ethnic Germans to return to the homes from which they were expelled at the end of WW2 is still being hotly disputed. 

And two extra borders for the future...

Turkey/Greece/Bulgaria

Having looked at internal borders in Europe, I have always wanted to go to its edge. I have been to Istanbul and was aware that part of Turkey is on the European land mass but I have often wondered where Europe ends and Asia - or Asia Minor begins. The border that divides Turkey from Bulgaria and Greece, close to the Turkish city if Edirne (Historic Adrianople) is it. I have little knowledge of this part of Europe other than the rather tragic stories I have read of conflict and migration, both historically and in the present day. While the other borders are accessible without a passport (for the moment!), this is the only one where it is; Turkey being outside the EU.

Slovakia/Hungary

The border between what is now Slovakia and Hungary has shifted countless times over the centuries as it came under control of various European Empires and following countless conflicts including World Wars 1 and 2. At the end of  WW2 when the former Yugoslavia was formed, a Slovakian friend of mine's parents were instructed to decide whether they wanted to live in Yugoslavia or become Hungarian. They chose the former and then following the fall of the Iron Curtain and the break-up of Yugoslavia into its constituent independent countries, they were asked the same question and again decided to remain Slovakian. There are many stories to be told here too.

Risks and challenges

With the internal European borders, the challenges are mainly those of a photographic nature; finding the right locations and the right shots as well as meeting locals who are prepared to be photographed and interviewed. To help me do this, I will contact local authorities, minority associations and local papers and am currently compiling a list of contacts. I will also be speaking to various European agencies and universities working with border studies such as the European University Institute Department of History and Civilisation. The biggest challenge is the time limit as an in-depth photographic study of the three border areas is quite a daunting task and will need to be well-planned and I will need to know precisely where I intend to photograph before I make the final trips.

I am therefore making preliminary trips to my chosen border areas to take test shots and make contacts before I return for the project proper.

To keep potential backers informed, I have set up a Facebook site and a blog on my photography website. I will also write email newsletters to potential and actual backers on the progress of funding and keep all involved parties up to date with developments.

I will also take out insurance to cover loss/theft of equipment, transport and accident/injury.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Questions about this project? Check out the FAQ

Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge £10 or more About $13

    Borderlands

    Gift box of 10 7'x 5' postcard prints from the project exhibition.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    1 backer
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge £20 or more About $25

    Borderlands

    A framed and signed A3 fine art print of your favourite image.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    1 backer
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  3. Select this reward

    Pledge £40 or more About $50

    Borderlands

    2 signed and framed A3 fine art prints of your favourite images.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    0 backers
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  4. Select this reward

    Pledge £50 or more About $63

    Borderlands

    A signed copy of the Borderlands book on publication.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    1 backer
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.

Funding period

- (40 days)