We are living in very strange times, in years to come everyone will remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when Covid-19 lockdown came.
I had gone to New Zealand (NZ) in early March, I had planned for a couple of weeks. The day after I landed, everything changed. I had to self-isolate for 14 days. I’d picked up an ordinary everyday cold that took on a sinister nature as fear of “the virus” spread through the community. I had a “test” which thankfully proved negative. Reassuring those I came in contact with was a different matter.
The hard lockdown that came while I was self-isolating meant I spent 4 months in NZ. Fortunately I was able to stay with a friend after my quarantine period was over. Life became one of queuing for food at the supermarket in a “socially-distanced” way and daily walks for exercise, ensuring the rules of 2 metres apart.
Nature was the winner for a short time. Weeds popped up in places they hadn’t been for years, the streets were eerily quiet with no people or vehicles just bird song filling the void. As the levels of lockdown relaxed and life slowly returned to the way it was before the pandemic hit we rather missed the weeds, bird song and lack of crowds and vehicles.
“Do you know that Russia is moving the border a few metres at a time into Georgia?” asked a Georgian artist. We met at an exhibition in London where we both had work showing. I was showing an image from one of my earlier border trips. “No, I replied, tell me more.”
A year later I’m on a plane to Georgia on a one way ticket to meet strangers who will show me just what is happening. Unlike previous borders I have explored and recorded, this involves a police escort, having my details recorded with the government and travelling in a four wheel vehicle across dirt roads.
Away from the eyes of the international media Russia is moving the border ever further into Georgia. Russia is in violation of the peace deal of 2008 brokered by the French president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy. Nearly a decade later Russia continues to refuse to move troops back to the pre-war borders and to allow international observers into the area.
I witnessed where villages are divided in half by razor wire fences that appear overnight. Large green signs written in English and Russian declaring the start of a “state border” will suddenly appear within Georgian territory. Observation posts, security camera, and movement sensors monitor activity along the defacto border.
Nearly eighteen months since I started photographing the razor wire fences being erected around Europe, we are now seeing a permanency in the structure of the fences. No longer reels of wire laying across the ground. These new structures are erected between steel poles and are electrified. A second fence has been installed, also electrified, with a road between the two wide enough for a vehicle to travel quickly around the border. In addition to the second fence there are sentry posts and cameras placed at regular intervals along the fence. Free travel in this Schengen area has most definitely taken on a new meaning.
London Wall, (remnants of the old wall and the new barriers)
Phew just completed an intense two weeks at the International Urban Summer School (iupss) at Goldsmiths University. We were an incredibly diverse group from around the world making for an even more exciting and stimulating learning environment. Taking a concept, listening to other practitioners and then spending a few hours photographing and editing for a presentation to the group by the next morning meant we had no time for resting or being idle. There were times I was operating outside my comfort zone, but that is what I had signed up for. My final project was not the “greasy spoon” work I had planned before I started, but instead changed to barriers and security that have been installed in and around London following the London Bridge attack.
The weather wasn’t what I would have ordered, but hey this was not supposed to be a push over. Just when I wanted high contrast I got grey dull and rain. C’est la vie.
However in the end I was reasonably happy with my set images. There is much I gained from this couple of weeks that I can apply to my borders project that I will be working on again later this month.
I’m taking part in a Royal Photographic Society (RPS) project looking at life near and around where the new cross rail tracks will be. Armed with the cross rail interactive map I’m trekking the city above ground capturing a wee glimpse of London life on the edge of where this new infrastructure project is currently creating chaos with large building sites and restricted roads. It will be fun to look back on these images in a few years when the new train routes is just part of every day London life.
This snatch of life is at Moorgate, the workers taking a coffee break inside Nero cafe and a couple of passersby who agreed to be part of the picture.
Wire fences are on hold for now while I work on a project in India. I welcome the opportunity to work on something positive for a change. My journey here was because of chocolate, something I adore. I ventured into the most divine chocolate shop in the suburb of Berhampore in Wellington, New Zealand to buy a gift for the friends I was staying with, and of course to indulge myself. That was how I met Jo, one of the trustees of the charity behind the DHAN Karunai Illam in South India. That was a couple of years ago now. One thing led to another, as they do, and now here I am in a small village in the south of India working with a bunch of fabulous kids to get them to tell their stories through photography.
Razor wire along the border of Macedonia and Greece near Idomeni, the area where there was a refugee camp. The authorities decided one fence was not enough so a second fence was erected parallel to the first fence. The refugees were all moved from the camp and all traces of the camp were being removed when I visited. Now the wheat and sunflower fields are very secure with 30km of expensive razor wire.
Razor wire fences continue to be erected around Europe. Free border controls are disappearing every week. However the stand governments are taking are not necessarily reflecting the views of the citizens of their countries. The fields that lie on the border of Austria and Hungary in the small town of Moschendorf will remain razor wire free (for now). While the Austrian government is planning on erecting more razor wire along its border with Hungary some of this land is owned by the catholic church and Bishop Zsifkovics of the region, has refused permission to build a fence across church land, saying it is “contrary to the spirit of the gospel”.
It is not only the church in this small region of Austria who have taken a stand against their government. A few hundred kilometres away the vineyard owners whose fields of vines straddle the border of Hungary and Slovenia have also refused to allow wire fences through their land.
They may be small voices but many small voices are capable of making big changes.