A Mission to Document France's Invisible Borders
In a series of 10 triptychs, Albin Millot outlined French territory by positioning himself on the exact borders in an attempt to redefine its limits and remind himself and others of their existence.
The act of walking often takes on the form of an initiatory journey. When, in the late fall of 1974, director Werner Herzog got a telephone call with the news that his friend and mentor, the German film critic Lotte Eisner, was dying in Paris, he felt that salvation would be gained through his suffering. He decided to walk from his home in Munich to Eisner’s deathbed and "undertook this shamanic journey, maybe, less to stave off the death of a friend than to confront himself in the liminal space between life and death", writer Jenny Hendrix suggests.
More than an act, walking is for American writer Rebecca Solnit an art - an art that Albin Millot combined with photography to explore the limits of France. As a French citizen, he always saw the Schengen Agreement that established the free circulation of people and goods within Europe as the abolition of borders. This was, until Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, re-erected them again in 2011, when the first Arab revolutions created a surge of immigrants.
"That made me think about my grandfather, who was smuggling people and weapons between France and Spain during Franco’s dictatorship. He was crossing through the mountains, where there was no border control", Millot explains. He decided to explore these geographical limits that had dissolved in the European discourse. And this, physically, by going in person to the edge of French territory.
The result of his quest are pitch dark triptychs, shot after a quiet walk to a pre-determined point on the border. "I chose to shoot with almost no light to emphasise the fact that borders are hard to detect", he explains. "But I added some signal lamps to break with the hypocritical claim that borders don’t exist anymore."
Each triptych follows the same well-thought out rules. The first photograph is shot while the photographer is approaching his destination. Once there, he shot the sky, which for him is a symbol of limitlessness. For the last image, he crosses the invisible but actual border and looks at France from the outside of the country’s geographical and political limits.
"This work became increasingly personal. The more locations I reached, the more emotional I was. I developed an intimate relationship to the territory, touching the trees, listening to my footsteps on the ground, looking at flying leaves, ultimately embracing the slowness that Rebecca Solnit refers to."
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.