Regina, Divided Lives // ©Heather Shuker
The Story behind the Portrait
In 2016 just after the UK voted to leave the EU, I travelled to Lithuania with the photography collective MAP6. We were drawn to Lithuania as it is the newest addition to the EU and also the geographical centre of Europe.
As a photographer, my work is about people so I naturally wanted to make a documentary/portrait series. My research in the UK led to a story covering villages in the region of Dieveniškės and Salcininkai that have been split by a border fence. The area is almost an enclave within Lithuania, surrounded by Belarus on three sides. When Lithuania and Belarus both declared independence from the Soviet Union, the former internal administrative line became an international border, yet it was still possible for neighbours to meet with few restrictions. However, when Lithuania joined the EU in 2004 and was subject to the Schengen agreement, this border was strictly enforced and a fence built.
The project Divided Lives tells stories of lost connections and families and friends now separated by the enforced border. For contacting people and translating support, I was helped by a school teacher from the nearest town who knew people in the village and spoke Russian. On the day of this portrait, Regina and I were having coffee. She was looking at old photographs of friends, and telling stories; the light was wonderful, so I quickly captured this moment. The photograph seems almost a painting; almost timeless, yet firmly anchored to the present with the detail of the TV remote.
Regina said to me, “The border fence was the end of everything, we have been cut off from our friends and from tending family graves.” The road through the village literally ends there, to begin again on another side of the fence in Belarus.
As a portrait photographer, I am interested in moments when people let down their guard and show themselves as they truly are. I feel that this quiet moment with Regina reflected deeply on the situation their lives were now in, this new division in their daily lives. To cross into Belarus, the round trip takes over five hours and a visa is required, which makes it practically impossible. Regina reflected on this as she sat with me that morning, sharing from her life, “We are on the road to nowhere.”
“The border fence was the end of everything, we have been cut off from our friends and from tending family graves.”
Heather Shuker is a London-based portrait and documentary photographer with ongoing work in and connections to Sierra Leone.Her practice is about people and their stories. She is a firm believer of making images with beauty and realism using the interplay of light, space and emotion. Her approach is that of an observer, exploring and revealing details, intimate moments and gestures to create images with beauty and realism.
Heather studied photography at the University of Brighton and Central Saint Martins College of Art, and has an MA in photography. Her work has been exhibited and published both in the UK and internationally. In 2018 she was a British Journal of Photography Portrait of Britain winner.
She is a founding member of the MAP6 Collective, which creates collective, photographic impressions of different places through their landscape and people.
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