Photographing the Remnants of Europe's Borders

Tommaso Rada travelled to the vanishing borders of various European states to explore the challenges of living in a unique space where cultures collide.

© Tommaso Rada, from the series, Domestic Borders. Bulgaria, Nikopol. A view of Turno Magurele industrial area. Turno Magurele industries have caused huge pollution of the area.

We came across Tommaso Rada’s work at the Verzasca Photo Festival, in Switzerland. The event offers a variety of unique exhibitions where the pictures seemingly merge with the surroundings, be it nature or architecture - a kind of treasure hunt where images replace windows, cover cliffs, or hide in high grass fields. Rada’s series, Domestic Borders was shown as part of this visual extravaganza. A study of life at the edge of Europe’s abolished borders. “I started in northern Portugal, at the border with Spain. It’s a weird territory that doesn’t really belong to either of them. I found that there was a sort of amplification of the problems of the two countries” Rada explains.

© Tommaso Rada, from the series, Domestic Borders. Bulgaria, Rupite. Thermal bath facilities. Close to the thermal facilities the mausoleum to Baba Vanga, a very famous Bulgarian clairvoyant, was built. Today the place is a renowned tourist attraction.

For each border, he identified and focused on different issues. Between Spain and Portugal, he looked at the aftermath of the economic crisis, resulting in surreal landscapes of unfinished buildings with no infrastructure around - “cathedrals in the desert”, as he describes them. At the border between Bulgaria and Romania, he looked at the transformation of a society that shifted from a communist system to a capitalist one, giving place to a complex, dual culture.

Rada collected on both sides the remnants of the soviet era in the form of statues, jet fighters, and portraits of Putin randomly displayed in public and private spaces. He also approached work inequalities, from prostitution in Spain and Portugal to factory workers in Bulgaria being exploited by Italian companies. “I shot situations and issues that are very different from each other, yet at the same time I don’t go deep into these issues. My idea is for people who are looking at the work to question themselves. What are we? Europeans? What do we want from Europe?”, Rada questions.

© Tommaso Rada, from the series, Domestic Borders. Italy, Ponte San Ludovico. A local beach close to the border with France surveilled by cameras to prevent migrants crossing the Italian / French border.

Positive examples of societal changes work as a counterpoint. This is the case in the Pyreneans, at the border between France and Spain, where young people move and start to live in rather responsible, sustainable ways. “In Catalonia for instance, they have a shepherd school. It’s a way to look at the past and the future at the same time, and how tradition can evolve to solve the problem of depopulation in the mountains”, Rada explains. “Maybe that’s a dream but it’s possible that if Europe worked in a different way, if it was more united, economic crisis would not lead to social crisis”, he concludes.

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Tommaso Rada is an Italian documentary photographer. His work has been published in numerous international newspapers and magazines including Financial Times Germany, Der Spiegel, Expresso, Monocle, Courrier Internacional, and Forbes Brazil.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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