‘Walking Walls’: A Photographic Exploration of Modern Political Boundaries

Jerusalem Separation Wall

(This guest post/photo essay is by Kate Trenerry, who has traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East to explore and document modern political borders. She has two bachelor’s degrees–one in History and another in Cinema & Media Studies–both from Carleton College. For a complete bio, including links to Kate’s blog, see the end of this post.)

Separation

Separation

‘Walking Walls’ is a project about people: families, communities, and individuals who live in extraordinary circumstances.

I spent three months walking along the Israeli Separation Wall around Jerusalem, the UN buffer zone in Cyprus, and the Peace Walls of Northern Ireland to physically experience how political partition affects those at ground zero. My aim was to document the consequences of division and physical segregation on a local and personal level, and begin to tell the stories of people who have been caught in political crossfire beyond their control.

This was also an extremely personal experience, by virtue of the nature of my solo travel. I intentionally sought a physically and mentally challenging experience that would allow me to experience a fraction of the fear and pain these walls inflict on the lands and people who surround them.

By relying on my own feet as a method of interacting with the places I visited, I gained a clearer, more slow-paced and intense understanding of the local landscape than I otherwise might have been able to.

Although the borders I visited are not officially recognized by most governments or international bodies, the concrete on the ground and in the heart renders this fact void for those who live with these divisions daily. I hope this project begins to shed a light on the brutal and overlooked realities of physical partition on a local scale.

Framing the Wall

1. Bethlehem, West Bank

I am juggling impromptu Arabic lessons from my taxi driver, the anxiety that comes with your first time in Palestine, and a rush of guilt because I am standing 50 feet from Aida Refugee Camp as I mentally frame the wall and raise my camera.

This, I tell myself, people need to see.

Walking Walls1

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Sharing Coffee and Slingshots

2. Jabal Mukaber, East Jerusalem

I trip over a dead cat. Its eye socket has been ripped from its face and lies pink and raw in the mud. Three men hail me from their hillside perch and insist on sharing coffee although we cannot speak to each other in a common tongue.

We take turns firing rocks into the valley with a slingshot instead.

I walk to the end of a road where a watchtower looms over houses, and soldiers inspect those who would enter this forsaken corner of the holy city.

Walking Walls2

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Shepherd’s Crossing

3. Qalqilya, West Bank

We have turned a quiet rural checkpoint into a spectacle, and everyone raises their cameras shamelessly to photograph a Palestinian driving a donkey-powered cart through the gate. I am on a tour with left-leaning Israelis and internationals, two of whom get into an argument with soldiers and are soon extracted by our leader.

A herd of sheep cross without incident; only the shepherd’s papers are examined.

Walking Walls3

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Following Orders

4. No-Man’s-Land, Nicosia, Cyprus

“Do not point your camera at the Turkish positions,” my United Nations escort tells me emphatically. I fight both temptation and instinct as we plunk around crumbling buildings, tall grass and small ponds that have been given free reign in this abandoned sector of an otherwise bustling European capital.

I couldn’t help but wonder, what would happen if I raised my hand and focused the black barrel of my lens?

Walking Walls4

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Edge of Consciousness

5. Lefke, North Cyprus

I am playing chicken with the Buffer Zone, trying to get as close as possible; I want to see the edge.

The only vehicles on the misty road are Turkish military jeeps and UN trucks. There is a watchtower perched on the highest hilltop and I imagine guards inside with their guns trained on my bright blue raincoat. I reach a decaying jumble of houses and I know I will find a barricade around the next corner. I turn around while I still can.

This place is more than the limits of a land; it is the edge of consciousness where frayed pieces must be hammered down with bricks and mortar.

Walking Walls5

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Refugees’ Tales

6. Famagusta, North Cyprus

We are on a dead-end march toward the abandoned city. There are four of us, picking our way through the sand along a windy expanse of beach. Our progress is halted by a plastic fence and a manned watchtower. One of my companions softly recalls summer days spent at a hotel on the other side whose steady Corinthian columns are now slipping into the sea.

We stand one hundred meters away and can do nothing but watch.

Walking Walls6

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Wall in the Park

7. Alexandra Park, North Belfast

This is it? I approach the graffiti-covered, corrugated metal structure, an unintentionally colorful, tiny dragon that wends its way down a grassy hill and over a creek.

The gate is open and I pass through unnoticed.

Walking Walls7

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Down the Shankill

8. Cupar Way, West Belfast

I hold my face close to the wall, reading a scrawled epithet, when the blast of a horn jerks me away from my thoughts and slams me down on a dirty street near the Shankill Road. I hear satisfied laughter as the car speeds away, its muffler groaning. Tourist buses come and go, their passengers transient, the vehicles an unrelenting piece of the landscape.

Near one end of the wall, there is an empty lot across the street, lined with tires, and concrete. I was standing here when the car horn made me jump.

The buses never stop by that part.

Walking Walls8

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Imagining…

9. Shankill/Falls, West Belfast

I am doing an experiment in West Belfast, assuming the role of an innocent pedestrian who wishes to cross from the Shankill to the Falls and back, as many times as possible, just to see what it’s like.

This person does not actually exist in Belfast.

My impersonation fails and my feet are forced by the walls.

Walking Walls9

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Your Thoughts/Reactions/Experiences?

What do you think of Kate’s project? I think it’s a great one (which is why I invited her to guest post for me.) Do you have any questions for her? If so, feel free to post them and she’ll be more than happy to answer them.

Have you visited any of these separation walls? Other ones? What was it like for you? Did you meet people there? If so, what were they like?

Feel free to include a link to a post you’ve written if relevant. Here’s a link to one I wrote about ‘bad border behaviors.’

More About Kate

Kate, who’s originally from Rochester, Minnesota, is now living in Boston where she is interning at Northern Light Productions, freelancing and laying the foundations for a career in photojournalism. She received the Edward H. “Ted” Mullin Fellowship in History, led a workshop on Rephotography for a Carleton class in Berlin and won a national championship in Ultimate Frisbee. Here’s a link to her website, Kate in Color, and her blog.

Photo Credit: All photos are Kate’s except the first one. Credit and thanks go to Paul Englefield, a photographer who made his work available via Creative Commons. Here’s a link to his Flickr stream.
19 Responses to ‘Walking Walls’: A Photographic Exploration of Modern Political Boundaries
  1. Guest Post: Walking Walls « Kate in Color
    October 7, 2012 | 6:01 pm

    […] have a guest post over at the travel blog Chicky Bus today! It’s a short photo essay some reflections on nine of the most intense and […]

  2. policomic
    October 7, 2012 | 6:34 pm

    Fantastic images (I’m particularly fond of #9) and stories; interesting to see these moments isolated from the journey and juxtaposed in this way.

    • Kate
      October 12, 2012 | 11:33 pm

      Thanks! It’s good to hear that from someone who followed the entire project closely.

  3. ClearedCustoms
    October 8, 2012 | 1:35 am

    Awesome project. Great photos and descriptions. I particularly liked the Israelis on the couch photo.

    • Kate
      October 14, 2012 | 10:16 pm

      Thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed it.
      I would like to point out that the men on the couch actually identify as Palestinians and although I didn’t ask, probably do not have Israeli citizenship-only 5% of the East Jerusalem population does. Although East Jerusalem residents have the opportunity to apply for citizenship, many decline to do so because they see it as acknowledging the occupying power. East Jerusalem is behind the Green Line and technically occupied territory, despite the government’s efforts to present it as a united capital city. I don’t mean to get too technical here, but this feels like an imperative distinction to clarify, not only to understand the photos and my project, but also for the integrity of the men I photographed.

      • ClearedCustoms
        October 14, 2012 | 10:23 pm

        Oh, I did not realize. Thanks for the additional details.

  4. Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    October 8, 2012 | 12:50 pm

    A difficult project to take on and well executed. Powerful images.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Treating myself in Seattle: privacy, good wine, and a viewMy Profile

    • Kate
      October 12, 2012 | 11:33 pm

      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it. The project has certainly been a big undertaking!

  5. Charu
    October 9, 2012 | 9:10 pm

    This is a powerful post and project. A bit nebulous at times because it’s hard to understand what the core message is. But I really like it–made me think.
    Charu recently posted..The Beautiful Changing Culture of Jordan’s WomenMy Profile

    • Kate
      October 12, 2012 | 11:41 pm

      Thanks, Charu. I did intend for the reflections to be a bit vague, maybe even disorienting, to communicate the ambiguous experience of the spaces I was exploring. And I also wanted to convey the idea that even though the sites I visited are totally different politically, in many ways they are united by these themes.

      • CB Driver
        October 14, 2012 | 11:53 am

        I really like the way you handled the post, Kate. I think that being a little vague was good for many reasons–one of which is that no one can attack you for being biased or taking sides. Staying objective and simply sharing what you experienced in a neutral way is not easy, and you pulled it off.

        Great job!!!

  6. Five Great Travel Reads this Week « The Glove Box Blog from Argus Car Hire
    October 12, 2012 | 11:29 am

    […] Walking Walls: A Photographic Exploration of Modern Political Boundaries in the Middle East, Ireland… […]

  7. Tom @ Waegook Tom
    October 14, 2012 | 10:50 am

    This is a great post. I wonder though, the wall I’m most familiar with, as an expat living in the country, is the great barricade between North and South Korea…although I’m not sure how close you can get without an apparently pretty terrible guided tour.
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..The Fantasy Five: The USAMy Profile

    • Kate
      October 14, 2012 | 10:19 pm

      Tom, thanks for reading! If I had the time and resources, I would really love to explore the North/South Korea divide and the nature of the DMZ. It’s on my list!

      I heard there was a newish hiking trail in South Korea that takes you near the border, although I can’t remember where I read this. Have you heard of it?

      Hopefully someday I’ll get over there to check it out.

  8. Maria
    October 14, 2012 | 11:03 am

    Kate’s project is one that is intense and so needed. This is the best read of my week. Thnx for getting me to think outside my own microcosm
    Maria recently posted..0-40 with GraceMy Profile

    • Kate
      October 14, 2012 | 10:20 pm

      Thanks so much, Maria! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  9. Caitlyn
    October 15, 2012 | 7:09 am

    Wow, those are some great photos. I’ve been on a tour to the DMZ in Korea and went with the US Army (you can book them online) – even though it is very stage-managed, it’s one of my travel highlights. You walk right across the border in the negotiation rooms which have been built on the border. Chilling stuff.

    • CB Driver
      October 18, 2012 | 9:38 am

      That sounds like an interesting tour, Caitlyn. I would totally do that if I were in the area!

    • Kate
      October 20, 2012 | 5:56 pm

      Thanks Caitlyn! The DMZ tour is definitely on my to-do list, it sounds pretty wild.

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