Tommaso Rada on Europe’s southern borders

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“I consider myself a son of the European project,” says Tommaso Rada. “I am part of a generation that lived through the opening of the borders between many different countries, the introduction of the euro, and all the new cultural and linguistic mixing that the European project meant. The feeling of being Italian as well as European is the reason why I am interested in the European Union.”

Rada is now based in São Paulo, but was born in Biella in northern Italy and lived in his home country until he was 25. He watched as the policies of the EU evolved, and as the meaning of the Union began to change. His ongoing series Domestic Borders frames a number of different projects he has made, evoking the varying perspectives of those living along the borders of the member countries.

Back to South, the most recent chapter, focuses particularly on the countries that would be affected if a ‘two-speed’ Europe was implemented – a proposal in which certain members, perhaps those in better economic positions and political situations, would integrate at a faster pace, leaving the others on the periphery. Visiting the areas that would be ‘left behind’, Rada hopes to show the “challenges of living in a unique space with a different passage of time”.

Portugal, Vila nova de Cerveira. A group of local boys sit in front of a soccer field on rolls of fake grass. The plastic grass is used only for special occasions. From Back to South © Tommaso Rada

One image shows a group of boys in Vila Nova de Cerveira in Portugal, sitting in a line atop some rolled up artificial turf. The synthetic grass is only spread out on the football pitch on special occasions to make it last longer, so the boys normally play on dirt. Another images shows a room in a petrol station on the border between Bulgaria and Greece. A portrait of Vladimir Putin hangs on the wall, illustrating “a feeling that, these days, is becoming quite frequent in some European countries,” says Rada – a feeling that speaks of a growing discontent with the Union.

Images from the southern European countries – Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria – are mixed together in the series, bound by their geographical location and the impact of the most recent economic crisis. In doing so, Rada wanted to “establish a dialogue between a diverse although similar people and territories,” he says. “The result is an unusual ‘travel visual narrative’ that did not aim at providing any answers but to pose questions on living within a specific political space.”

He leaves it to the viewers to draw their own conclusions about the two-speed proposition, but his position is clear. For him the EU was created with a vision for unity and peace, based on the principles of freedom and social justice. Segregating the Union into two defined camps is discriminatory. “The ‘two-speed’ Europe would only increase the discontent of the people against other European countries,” he says.

“The countries that are having problems achieving the economic goals established by the EU should try to find better solutions, but there is also a communitarian principle of helping each other that should be followed, honouring the idea of unity in solidarity.” This article was first published in the February issue of BJP

Italy, Ponte San Ludovico. A local beach close to the border with France, fitted with surveillance cameras to prevent migrants crossing over. From Back to South © Tommaso Rada
Portugal, Vilanova de Santo Antonio. The Guardian River traces the border between Spain and Portugal for around 110km, along this distance there are only two bridges and two ferry services crossing the water. From Back to South © Tommaso Rada
Romania, Giurgiu. A border policemen checks for illegal migrants. From Back to South © Tommaso Rada
Greece, Serrai. Abandoned petrol station in Greek Macedonia, one of the poorest regions in the country. From Back to South © Tommaso Rada
Spain, Cardona. A view of a mountain of salt, a geological feature unique to the Pyrenees. In the area, salt mining has been the main activity for decades – but excessive salt excavation contaminated the aquifer ground. From Back to South © Tommaso Rada
Italy, Ventimiglia. A migrant look in the direction of the French coast from the Italian side of the border. France has intensified controls on its border with Italy, suspending the Schengen Treaty. From Back to South © Tommaso Rada
Romania, Dobromir. Local Mufti. Dobromir is the only Romanian village with a 90% Muslim population. From Back to South © Tommaso Rada
Romania, Giurgiu. A man working as security guard stands on a barrack in front of an abandoned factory that he watches over. From Back to South © Tommaso Rada
Bulgaria, Nikopol. A view of the Turno Magurele industrial area, which caused massive pollution locally. From Back to South © Tommaso Rada
Izabela Radwanska Zhang

Starting out as an intern back in 2016, Izabela Radwanska Zhang is now the Editorial Director of British Journal of Photography in print and online. Her words have appeared in Disegno and Press Association. Prior to this, she completed a MA in Magazine Journalism at City University, London, and most recently, a Postgrad Certificate in Graphic Design at London College of Communication.