Tristan Poyser’s latest project The Invisible Inbetween began as a response to the results of the UK’s Brexit referendum.
He speaks to Spectrum Photographic about its origins, challenges and where you can see the images later this year.
A time of uncertainty
Following the outcome of the referendum in 2017 Poyser says one of his first thoughts was what would happen to the Irish border.
After realising he knew little about the only land border between the UK and EU he decided to travel and photograph its 310-mile length.
The Invisible Inbetween documents the border during the time of uncertainty between the invocation of Article 50 in March 2017 and the UK’s planned withdrawal in March 2019.
Although the border acts as an administrative and political division Poyser describes it as ‘an imaginary boundary’ with little physical evidence of its existence.
“None of the landscapes I photograph are natural, they have all been shaped by man, or industry, or agriculture,” says Poyser, who cites John Davies as an influence.
“I was quite conscious that I wanted these images to be a snapshot in time in case it changes again.
“The Irish border is always a contentious border and now with Article 50 there is a possibility it will change again. It has already changed in our lifetime.”
Making the invisible visible
Poyser has been working on the project for almost two years.
During that time he has made seven week-long visits to Ireland to photograph the border.
However once he had captured his images he realised the problems of photographing an invisible border.
“It is an invisible boundary and when I was showing people my initial images they were asking ‘Where’s the border?’. It was really difficult to show within the image.”
Poyser considered several different methods, including drawing on his photographs, before settling on tearing the pictures along the border then placing them back together.
“When I mentioned to my wife I was going to tear the pictures she gasped and said ‘That is something you would never do’.
“I suppose because to me a photograph is a precious object. I’m not an artist, I don’t do collages, I’m a photographer.”
Poyser tore the images as close to the border as he could, making the invisible visible.
The very act of tearing the images adds to an intentionally uncomfortable feeling running throughout this project.
“Tearing the images creates a feeling of uneasiness, you shouldn’t tear a picture, that is an action you shouldn’t do.”
An outsider looking in
The uncertainty of what will happen to the border and Poyser’s position as an outsider contribute to the sense of unease throughout the project.
He is keen to emphasise he doesn’t have any Irish heritage or connections.
His only connection is as a British citizen looking at what is our only land border with Europe.
“As an Englishman, trespassing to follow an invisible line through a historically troubled landscape, where cross border theft and crime is a constant issue, the uneasiness is compounded,” says Poyser.
He deliberately used ‘English’ in the project’s title as he believes English people tend to be less informed about the rest of Britain.
Challenges and highlights
For Poyser, one of the highlights of the project has been exploring a country he knew little about.
“I always tell people that I am not very good at fishing and I don’t like playing golf,” he says.
“So, to me, being able to wander around the countryside is the highlight.
“It is just gorgeous countryside but at the same time I am under pressure because I am self funding the project and it is time spent away from my family.”
Poyser’s chosen medium also presented its own challenges.
“Because I’ve chosen to do this project in analogue the whole workflow and process is slowed down,” he says.
“Instead of taking 500 pictures a day I’ll take five if I’m lucky.”
However, Poyser is hoping the effort will be worth it if the project makes people think about how a simple action such as a vote can have a larger impact.
Cutting through the babble and confusion
Garrett Carr, author of The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border has praised the project.
He believes words have lost their meaning in the Brexit debate.
“It is at times like these that artists are most vital to society,” says Carr.
“A single image, if it is strong, can cut through the babble and the confusion and bring understanding.
“Tristan Poyser turned his lens on perhaps the thorniest issue of the Brexit thorn tree: Ireland’s border and what it becomes when it is the UK’s only land frontier with the EU.
“Poyser showed admirable commitment in the time and attention he gave Ireland’s border, travelling it closely in his van.
“He has returned with moody and evocative landscapes, all in the border’s muted tones.”
Carr emphasises the border’s lack of physical presence and praises Poyser’s approach.
“Poyser went further than just photographing the route of this invisible frontier.
“He has taken hold of the physical photographs and ripped them along the borderline.
“Each tear is, I think, a stroke of brilliance. It is more of an act than a mark, although it has left a visual record of itself, and it is more eloquent than one hundred newspaper articles about the border.
“The tears capture something of the uneasiness of the border, and suggest a deeply felt misfortune.
“It is usually divorces or family estrangements that make us tear photographs, something has to have gone badly wrong for us to make the tear.”
The Invisible Inbetween: An Englishman’s Search For The Irish Border
The Invisible Inbetween: An Englishman’s Search For The Irish Border will go on show at Belfast Exposed on March 28.
Its official exhibition launch coincides with the planned withdrawal date.
There will be an early chance to view Poyser’s work at Format Festival on March 15.
For more information visit invisibleinbetween.wordpress.com
Main image:Border Cows © Tristan Poyser