Considering the outcome for Northern Ireland after the Brexit referendum in 2016, Toby Binder looks at the impact these changes may have on the youth of Belfast.

Can you explain the work in 2 sentences?
The Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland peace treaty, was signed 21 years ago, which means that young people today never experienced the so-called Troubles themselves. As part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland will soon leave the European Union even though in the 2016 Brexit referendum, a majority of its citizens voted to remain. While most Protestant Unionists voted to leave, Catholic Irish Nationalists for the most part wanted to remain in the EU. This could threaten the fragile peace between the two communities, many of whom live in neighbourhoods that are still divided by walls today. The photo essay shows that kids in Belfast often suffer similar problems in daily life, like unemployment, drug crime and violence, no matter which side of the so-called Peace Walls they live on.

What one thing has most helped shape your practice?
Being honest, open and straightforward. Engaging completely with the people I am working with. Being patient and taking as much time as needed to show that you are really interested in their lives and serious about telling their stories. Most people have a good sense of whether they want to have someone in their daily lives or not.

© Toby Binder, from the series ‘Youth of Belfast’, Belfast, Shankill. Emily, 2017
© Toby Binder, from the series ‘Youth of Belfast’, Belfast, Sandy Row. Boys drinking beer and arguing, Sandy Row, 2018


© Toby Binder, from the series ‘Youth of Belfast’, Belfast, Village. Boys’ Flute Band during marching season on Rydalmere Street, 2017

Why photography? Why the still image?
I love documentary films and admire many filmmakers, but photography still has a power that I don’t want to miss in my work. The ability to show just one moment, one gaze or action that viewers can completely focus on – as long as they want to. While shooting I sometimes think, “this would have been a very nice take for a film” – but that’s maybe just in moments when the photo is not as good as I want it to be. When you press the shutter at exactly the right moment, you know that photography is something very powerful.

Where do your ideas begin?
The starting point can be reading newspapers or talking to friends and becoming aware of situations that grab you and will not let you go. But the real work is shaped by travelling, talking to people on location and spending time with them, being out in the streets, all to get a real idea of what is going on. It always has to be something that makes me feel personally concerned or that interests me. And of course, it helps to have empathy with and understanding for the people you work with.

© Toby Binder, from the series ‘Youth of Belfast’, Belfast, Clonard. Oisin, Jonjo, Antoin and Lee at “The Dam”, the local water reservoir, 2017
© Toby Binder, from the series ‘Youth of Belfast’, Belfast, Shankill. Young boy and old men at a parade on Crumlin Road, 2007
© Toby Binder, from the series ‘Youth of Belfast’, Belfast, Shankill. Megan and Joshua, 2017

What’s next?
Besides working on many different topics on assignments, I will continue my long-term project, Youth of the UK. The sequence about Belfast will be published as a book, Wee Muckers: Youth of Belfast, by Kehrer-Verlag in March 2019, and I will definitely follow the youngsters who I got to know and whose company I appreciate on upcoming trips to Belfast. I want to see and show how their lives continue after all these decisions made by politicians who seem so distant from real life.

Toby Binder’s latest publication Wee Muckers – Youth of Belfast will be available March 2019. For more information, you can visit his website here. 

For more from #1 Europe click here. 

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