“The authorities don’t want journalists or photographers to come.”

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In their ongoing project, photographer duo Carlo Lombardi and Miririam Stanke travel across Nomansland, uncovering the aftermath of a landscape damaged by war.

In Nomansland, Bosnia and Herzegovina become a reliquary for its troubled history. We see a minesweeper standing in a field of red flags, which peep out of foliage like flowers. A lonely, graffitied spomenik stands atop a hill. Sheep graze next to  bombed-out barracks; a crowd gathers around a preacher at Medjugorje, a pilgrimage site established in the 1980s after six local children reported visions of the Virgin Mary. Hauntingly, a human skull hides amid long grass and leaf litter, cordoned off by barricade tape.

Nomansland is an ongoing collaboration between photographers Carlo Lombardi and Miriam Stanke that explores this ravaged country. It commenced after the two  were introduced at the 2018 Hamburg Triennial. “We started planning to do something together right away,” Stanke recounts. Realising their shared interest in the Balkans, they convened a trip across one of the region’s most troubled nations. The series intersperses portraits of people  they met along with landscapes, monuments and people engaged in collective activities. Places of sublime natural beauty — pearly rivers, rugged hills, verdant woodland — are marred by signs of Bosnia’s agonised past.

From the series Nomansland, from Name of Series, © Carlo Lombardi and Miriam Stanke.

It is a country divided, politically split into two semi-autonomous areas and shared by Muslim Bosnians, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs. After Yugoslavia collapsed in 1992, the three groups engaged in a calamitous war, characterised by displacement andethnic cleansing. The war ended in 1995, after NATO dropped 1,206 bombs on the Serb-controlled Republika Srpska, some of which were tipped with degraded uranium. “We figured a good starting point,” says Stanke, “would be to look at the alterations in the environment, how a war can change a country.”

Lombardi was particularly interested in the consequences of these attacks. Residual radiation remains, affecting the health of those living nearby. “We met a member of the military,” he recounts,  “who had worked at the barracks during the war. He now had cancer — his nose had completely degraded.” One photograph shows a smiling mother and daughter locked in embrace, with a ruined tank base in the background. “They are living,” Lombardi continues, “500m from the radiation.”

From the series Nomansland, from Name of Series, © Carlo Lombardi and Miriam Stanke.
From the series Nomansland, from Name of Series, © Carlo Lombardi and Miriam Stanke.

While the war is over, many of its wounds remain untreated. It has left a land broken by inaccessible minefields and partitioned communities. “One aspect which interests us,” says Stanke, “is how this affects the younger generation. They never experienced the conflict first hand, but it could be inherited by the family.” Among some older residents, there was a reluctance to talk about what had happened. “When we first went to the area and started to talk to people,they said ‘no, no, nothing happened here.’There’s a lot of disinformation. The authorities don’t want journalists or photographers to come.”

Despite this, the duo gained access to a mine clearance company. One picture shows a liquor cabinet overflowing with dummy bombs, mines and missiles, used for training. “A lot of people that took part in the warnow work together, picking up their own mines.” explains Lombardi. Here at least, the explosives that scar Bosnia have spurred some sort of unity.

From the series Nomansland, from Name of Series, © Carlo Lombardi and Miriam Stanke.



Joe Lloyd

Joe Lloyd is a freelance writer on art, architecture and photography (and any combination of the three). Based in London but revitalised by regular travel, he is particularly interested in cityscapes, socially-motivated practice and gastronomic history.