Border Horizons

Retour, Reportage

If asked what I am currently working on, I have always somewhat hesitantly entitled the project “Europe” – and then immediately the qualifications followed. For what does the word really express? The potential limit itself, the “borders of Europe”, only brought with it new restrictions. What I planned was compiled in a fragmentary way and went back to a subjective selection. Meanwhile, “Places of Transition in Europe” seemed to me to be a suitable working title. However, since, after a few trips, I had (almost) never actually crossed the borders, but instead had always either gazed at or photographed respectively the frontiers, rivers, fences and border stations from what I called the safe ‘distance of Schengen’, I found myself perhaps physically in such a transitional place whilst being nevertheless precisely just as far away from it.

I have only ever been a West European in any case, have always had respect for the “Iron Curtain” and have now moreover become, as a result of the political and territorial shifts in Europe, just a “Schengen European”. I did not want to use my project to define what Europe means, where it begins, where it ends, and also considered for a time the title “Europe and Turkey”, in order to encapsulate that on the other hand, there are no firm borders in this case, thereby furthermore referring to an as yet unresolved and lengthy dispute over the self definition of the European Union. However, the context again appeared too narrow to me and out of this came: “Europe, Turkey and Israel”. I got out my Israel photos from 1995 again. I remembered a curious occurrence at a checkpoint. We had been travelling by bike, and already directly after Jerusalem we had gone through controls on the road to the Dead Sea, then travelled downhill all the way and it was not until we were on the stretch running alongside the Dead Sea that, even from some distance away, we again caught sight of the red and white painted drums, plastic barricades and Stop signs that announced a checkpoint. The road was reduced to one lane, meaning that vehicles had to travel slowly because of potential oncoming traffic. This type of checkpoint was probably mobile, for here there were erected only a tent and a wooden shack, plus a bench that could be installed underneath it, come rain or shine. On the photo that was taken then, four soldiers are standing around, more bored and relaxed than anything else – smoking cigarettes with sunglasses and machine guns – apparently free of any major statutory formalities. As had so often been the case, amazement was expressed at our bicycle tour and a few jokes were cracked – but nevertheless it was soon “back to business”: “Passport!”

We showed our passports and I asked them if I could photograph them. They had nothing against it, struck a bit of a pose and carried on with their jokes. I took two photographs. The guy at the front, hands on hips, is laughing in a really friendly way into the camera, the next guy is standing somewhat awkwardly next to him and the other two are sitting casually against the back of the bench. The sun is shining and casting long shadows in the sand. We packed our passports away again, then my camera, and journeyed on. Often when I am travelling and taking photographs, there are only a very few recognisable external differences between me and a tourist. Exactly like the tourist, I am travelling in order to collect images, and these images are both objective and material like picture postcards, snapshots and videos, as well as subjective and immaterial, like hopes, dreams and visions. I also have, like many tourists, a vague idea of what it is that I am going to see, but I am still prepared time and time again to risk leaving it to the actual encounter. It was in this word, ‘tourist’, then, that a part of my eventual title was also to be found: the tour – and since I continually, and fairly rapidly, used to return to my point of departure, then from that was derived: Retour.

A journey also always has a border. As soon as a country to which I wanted to travel had been decided upon, then I immediately got a ticket for a return flight, hired a car upon arrival and drove for seven to ten days through regions that I had previously roughly researched. Each time, I had a digital camera with me, a laptop, a tripod and a Hasselblad. Evenings in the hotel, then, were always a case of transferring images from the camera onto the computer, sorting through them, and burning them onto a CD. For this reason, an important criterion when selecting a room was whether an electrical socket was available. In addition to that, a good map, one that was not too old, was indispensable.