It was with more than a little trepidation that I took this assignment in Belfast. Not because of “The Troubles” (and I still can’t get over the understatement in this term), but for photographing something that looks so familiar, something so much like where I grew up, and what I took for granted.
Since I began making a living out of photography back in January, much of my work has been centred around events, and all of it in Africa - from Libya, through the Sudans, to Kenya and Somalia. They have been stories of conflict, of voting, of famine and drought. And if I was working on quieter stories, it was still “exotic”; a different scenery, and different peoples, for the largely western audience that views (and buys) my work.
Here in Northern Ireland, the terraced houses reminded me of Sheffield. The faces looked the same as those who I grew up with. I wouldn’t have that “safety net” of the exotic on this assignment.
I was working with a journalist who I first met in Libya, as we crossed the border from Egypt. The story was for a weekend supplement of Le Monde, and would have roots in a civil war that took place in my own country as I was growing up, but which I realised I knew less about than many other conflicts in other corners of the globe.
What shocked me the most were the “Peace Walls”. We talk about—and deplore—the Israeli wall that separates the Palestinian Territories from Israel, segregating two peoples. But these exist in Belfast today. Under the shadow of it, gardens are covered in netting and mesh, resembling small prisons, to protect them from bricks and other missiles thrown over from the opposite side. I had seen the same thing in Hebron.
And these are not relics of the past, now that peace talks have brought about a relative calm. People here say that the walls are still needed, to keep two opposing communities apart. Integration is a long way off yet.
» Read Belfast, en paix mais toujours divisée — Le Monde des religions
» See the tearsheet in my portfolio