If you asked me “Do you like landscape photography?”, I’d just say “No”. But when I met Tristan Poyser last year at RedEye’s Photo Symposium and asked him what he was photographing, he didn’t say “landscapes” – He told me he was photographing the border between the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. After Brexit, this will be the border between the U.K. and the E.U. It might also be the thing that brings about a united Ireland and the end of the United Kingdom. I’ve heard Poyser say he is not political, but what he has chosen to photograph is. At the time I was working on ‘Flag of Convenience’ my own take on issues of nationalism and patriotism through the Union Jack flag, which inevitably led me to Northern Ireland.
The border between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland is rural, if you were describing it as it as ‘pretty’ it would be as in ‘pretty unremarkable’. Poyser chose to photograph it on uniformly dull days, of which there seem to be many — But the photographs are anything but dull, they have a melancholic beauty, a sadness even that to my eyes hints at the history of this troubled area.
There is an obvious obstacle photographing this border – It largely exists as a line on a map, or in people’s memories, but has little physical presence on the ground. After the Good Friday Anglo Irish Agreement and membership by both countries of the European Union there was no need for Customs Posts. A hugely symbolic moment in the Peace Process came with the dismantling of the British Army Watch Towers, which were dotted along the border. These had been memorably documented by Magnum photographer Donovan Whylie, but were gone by the time Tristan Poyser set up his tripod. His photographs are captioned with the grid references (something I did with my photographs of CCTV cameras in ‘Reality TV’).
But Poyser eloquently shows the line of the invisible border and moves the work onto a new level by literally tearing his pictures in two along the line the border takes. It perfectly illustrates the absurdity of a such a seemingly arbitrary line and points to the violence re-imposing a hard border between the two countries might provoke. 250 people from different parts of the UK were given photographs and asked to rip them where they imagined the border to be. They stuck the two pieces back together and wrote about what the separation meant to them. ‘The Invisible In-between’ is (perhaps unconsciously?) psychogeography as much as photography.
The project has been exhibited in Northern Ireland, and will be shown in Liverpool as part of the Look festival from October to December, but don’t wait until then to see it in book form. This has been self-published in a numbered edition of 250. The design by John Polowski folds out like a map — clever, but perfectly complementing the subject. An illuminating essay entitled ‘No Way Back’ by Garrett Carr concludes the work is “…more eloquent than one hundred newspaper articles about the border.” And I would agree.If there are any copies left buy them.