An ambitious ongoing project by photographer Rob Hornstra and writer/filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen puts the spotlight on peripheral European heartlands
In 2013, a proposal to initiate Europe’s largest gold and silver mining project in Roșia Montană, Romania, sparked a series of anti-government protests in dozens of cities across the country. The proposal is still awaiting a parliamentary decision, but among its many contentions are the long-term health effects ofcyanide poisoning – a potentially deadly chemical used to extract gold – and the suspicion of fake documentation, prompted by vested interests within the government. Belgian photographer Tomas Bachot travelled to Romania in 2015, intending to create a documentary project about the state of the mining conflict. After months of travelling through several cities, one of his couchsurfing hosts reacted negatively to his photographs, and said she was unable to support his vision of her country. “I was shocked, because as an image-maker you’re always open to hear feedback, but you’re also scared,” says Bachot. “I realised what I really needed to do, rather than just observing the place and the situation. I realised that what I was doing was a very limited way of meeting people …
“I consider myself a son of the European project,” says Tommaso Rada. “I am part of a generation that lived through the opening of the borders between many different countries, the introduction of the euro, and all the new cultural and linguistic mixing that the European project meant. The feeling of being Italian as well as European is the reason why I am interested in the European Union.”
Rada is now based in São Paulo, but was born in Biella in northern Italy and lived in his home country until he was 25. He watched as the policies of the EU evolved, and as the meaning of the Union began to change. His ongoing series Domestic Borders frames a number of different projects he has made, evoking the varying perspectives of those living along the borders of the member countries.
Back to South, the most recent chapter, focuses particularly on the countries that would be affected if a ‘two-speed’ Europe was implemented – a proposal in which certain members, perhaps those in better economic positions and political situations, would integrate at a faster pace, leaving the others on the periphery. Visiting the areas that would be ‘left behind’, Rada hopes to show the “challenges of living in a unique space with a different passage of time”.
“My aim is not to make PHOTOGRAPHS, but rather CHARTS and MAPS that might at the same time constitute photographs,” writes photographer and prolific writer on his craft, Luigi Ghirri in his 1973 essay, Fotografie del periodo iniziale. Trained as a surveyor, the iconography of maps and atlases prevail Ghirri’s photography. “But what if you map his work?” asks curator James Lingwood. “He was, in a way, mapping the changing topography of modern life in Europe in the 1970s and also the change in the relationship between people and images.”
The Circulation(s) festival returns to Paris from 20 April – 30 June, featuring work by photographers based in or originally from Europe. This year the festival has been directed by Francois Cheval and Audrey Hoareau, who used to work together at France’s respected Musée Nicéphore-Niépce but left to set up The Red Eye project. As they’re at pains to explain, though the festival is pitched as a festival of “young photography”, it actually promotes emerging work, whatever the photographer’s age.
“There isn’t really an age limit, the only “true” condition is to come from Europe or to reside in a European country,” they say. “Another criterion is to not have been shown very much in France and Europe. We know that the term ‘young photography’ is ambiguous… Circulation(s)’ desire is simply to offer emerging photographers, regardless of their age, a springboard.”
They add that the festival was one of the first to question the overrepresentation of male photographers, and also to pay its exhibitors; in addition, this year’s edition includes photographers from “countries whose state of contemporary photography is insufficiently known”, such has Georgia or Estonia. It also includes Romania, which this year has a special focus as part of the French Institute’s France-Romania Season.
Since childhood, the Portuguese landscape of Beira Interior has held a personal resonance for photographer Tito Mouraz. “I have a relationship and a past with this region,” he says. Encouraged by “a fusion of happy memories”, Mouraz began a new body of work named Fluvial, which focuses on the landscape and the people that come and go there. For Fluvial, he returned to the familiar territory for six consecutive summers between 2011 and 2017. Described by Humberto Brito as an “ode to leisure”, the images blend fiction and reality, capturing meditative junctures by the water. “These are informal moments in the Portuguese society, predominantly migrants returning home from northern Europe for the summer holidays to join their families,” explains Mouraz.
“This image documents a transcendental fact in the life of the person portrayed: Amadou had just been rescued from the sea by a European vessel,” says Dezfuli. “Apparently his dream is fulfilled. However, fear, mistrust and uncertainty are present, as well as determination and strength.” For his series, Passengers, photographer Cesar Dezfuli took a sequence of 118 photographs in 120 minutes as a boat load of refugees were rescued just off the coast of Libya. These people had journeyed from different countries looking for a better future in Europe.
“If you’ve been to Morocco I think you’ll understand that we’re a very colourful country, a colourful people. We see every colour being worn. In Morocco that there is the clash of colours and an attitude not to be scared of colours,” says Hassan Hajjaj. His latest exhibition, La Caravane, is about to launch at Somerset House, the first display for the British-Moroccan photographer in London in seven years. His work reflects on identity and culture, which has featured as a big part of his life and work since moving to the UK from a small port town in Morocco aged just 13.
“The exhibition just becomes this transition point. There will be new artwork created by the exhibition. I think that’s exciting: it means it becomes alive. These often tragic stories will continue living in other forms, whether through painting or through music, so it’s about making the exhibition a place of life and a celebration of that life,” says Giles Duley, the photographer who has spent months travelling Europe and the Middle East to document the refugee crisis with UNHCR. Taking images from his photobook, I Can Only Tell You What I See, the display will feature artists in residence, a soundscape from Massive Attack and will host an evening supper so as visitors can sit and discuss the work and the wider problems surrounding the refugee crisis.
“I meet people with more empathy and more care towards one another in war situations or in conflict around the world than I have ever experienced in Europe. People want to share the little they have with me because I have talked to them and shown an interest in them,” says Jan Grarup. His work has taken him to the sites of the worst conflicts – from obvious examples such as Iraq and Iran, to forgotten areas like the Central African Republic. Each place he visits, he stays to learn about the culture and customs of the people before taking their photographs. In these places of despair and destruction, Grarup often finds hope and resilience. But the Western world needs to be more active and share the responsibility to help these regions return to a peaceful existence.