South from Here
(2021)

During his chores, a French farmer decided to move a stone out of the path of his tractor. Only later, it was understood that he redrew the Franco-Belgian border by 2.29 meters, making Belgium larger and France smaller.

And here it is, the accident that changed everything and threw us in our old paths. By setting foot in this newly created domain we chased and anticipated our stones, finally moving them.
×   Essay: A Visual Relief
     Part I
It has been a while. The feeling of holding a camera and moving freely, we couldn't experience this. An accident that changed everything, unfolding a different reality.
     What we did in this very project is a combustion of restlessness, chasing a story-hook, and the feeling as if we are still competent enough to go out and make ‘something’. We did not take photographs for almost two years. We were occupied with anything but photography. As for everyone, we could taste the restlessness in the air these last two years.
     We had to do this trip. We contemplated many projects over the last two years and many, well, none, came to fruition. This demotivated us greatly. Often the conceptualization of work was how far we were able to go. The actual realization of that work never happened. We were on a quest to bypass this restlessness using the thing we love, photography. We did the talking, the conceptualizing, the thinking, now the time had come to produce. We went out and planned 5 days in a new context, in this case Northern France and Southern Belgium, after hearing the story of a farmer who by accident moved the border between France and Belgium. We felt touched by this story both in a literal and metaphoric way.
     Things happen when you anticipate them. Be wary, ‘things’ happen. We are not saying that the ‘thing’ you are anticipating is going to happen. I think this is a unique feature that photography offers. In our case, while focussing on finding that one thing that could communicate our story we were open for eventualities that materialized into the actual plot. One could say, this is quite a random formulation of a project. We would argue that the photography project had already begun when the anticipation started boiling. Meaning we were open to find the eventualities. This time, with a ticklish feeling in our belly.
     Discovering the story of this farmer, who changed the borders of two nations with a simple gesture, gave us confidence and enough interest to drive hundreds of kilometers south from home. If a man can move a border with his own hands, why can't we simply move towards the thing we were missing the most?
     And here it is, the accident that changed everything and threw us on our old path. This story does not have an epicenter, it only has a gesture, an unpremeditated gesture that sets in motion a different reality from the one we were used to.
     It was moved so we followed.

     Part II
As soon as we arrived, we went straight to the nearest village. In order to find it, we chased the bell tower and later entered the local church. We got out. Up and down those small little streets where wild and rural meet. We talked to a woman, she drove us in front of the farm we were looking for. We ended up getting close, but we left. That was not the time to meet Michel. We walked back to our car, and kept driving around.
From the glimpse of the door, I could see a man walking towards us. An old man opened the door and began to look at us, his eyes fell on the camera in my hands and then on Daniël's camera. In French, he asked us what we wanted. In our own improvised French, we told him we were there to talk to him. We had heard what he had done and wanted to be shown the exact spot where he had moved the stone marking the border. He smiled and told us to wait thirty minutes, as he would've brought us there himself. We waited inside his farm, which consisted of several barns: on one side a hayloft, on the other side a stall with cows, another stall hosting bulls, and another one calves. We observed two farmers going about their business. One was busy moving the hay with a tractor from one corner to the other, the second farmer was washing some milk containers with boiling water, creating clouds of steam hit by the rays of light. Michel arrived and told us to get into the car. There were three of us and two seats. I sat in the boot of the car. On country roads, my head kept on hitting the roof of the car. Finally, we arrived at our destination, from the fetal position I was in, I could release my legs and walk freely. Michel with his walking stick started to move the weeds to show us the stone. Once moved from its position, not too long ago, the stone had started Michel's fame, to the point in which this story ended up in the New York Times. Proudly he posed for us.
We were looking for a cornfield that we had seen several times, but at night finding it seemed almost impossible. I think it's that way, one said, but the other was pointing in the opposite direction. Forty minutes of driving around, taking country roads, hitting the car over small bumps, and almost arguing because we wouldn't listen to each other. In the end, we realized we had been going through it four times, but we hadn't noticed.
This place smells like an animal.
Excited and ready for the unsuspected. Our headquarters, or what we considered as such: a little white house on the Belgium side of the border between France and Belgium. Idyllic at first. In our excitement, we did not read the advertisement well enough and figured out a bit too late we were going to share this house with an older lady living there. A big punch of dog smell hit us when entering and once we got all of our stuff into our rooms we started to observe the space we would've stayed for the rest of the week. We both were sleeping in the rooms that were once of her children, by now grown and living elsewhere. Everything was still like it was when they were teenagers. A little bit odd, but well, we were there to work, eat and sleep. Throughout the week we often came back to our ‘house’ quite late and totally exhausted. Ready to go through the pictures we took. But we just could not really relax in this house. We felt like we were intruding on her own space. At times she would prepare little cakes for us and leave them on our working desk. We came home to this. Very kind. But still, our office was nothing but a tile-floor, with a table and two wooden chairs. It made us go to bed relatively quickly because we sought comfort after being outside in a rainy, misty cold environment for hours on end. The house became a beacon of productivity and somehow also pushed us to stay outside.
My heart dropped when the man flung open the door and aimed a gun at the guests of the bar. I saw within a split second that the gun was empty, old, and not meant to shoot. I was excited. One of the farmers, who comes for his regular drink in the late afternoon, would dress up as a cowboy and play the robbery scene. Michel, the barkeeper, also played the game like a true spaghetti-western actor by throwing some change at the semi-drunk cowboy. A gaze of surprise and vicarious shame was shown on the faces of the regular drinkers.
Where is this Rally?
Two distinct sounds are out of the ordinary when you drive in the countryside of Northern France. One, gunshots. Little fluorescent spots in the landscape give away where the hunters are shooting. My romantic idea of French hunters was crushed after seeing this. Where are the long leather jackets, the leather boots, and the Border Collies. I assume they are nowadays more concerned about not shooting each other. Two, rumbling echoes of exhausts and slipping tires. A Rally was going on somewhere. We wanted to find out where this was happening. In movies they make it seem very easy to just follow a sound and figure out where it comes from. In reality, this was very difficult. From where did the Rally start? After driving around for a bit we finally found the town where the Rally's finish line was prepared⁄placed. It was pouring rain. We parked the car and waited for cars to spawn. A vibrant orange car approached the parking lot where we patiently waited. The driver stopped for a few minutes, picked up some papers, and drove off. We assumed he was off to the start again to drive another round. We followed him out of town. You have to imagine, these are rally cars, driven by rally drivers. Following quickly escalated into chasing. Once entered the more-rural parts of the region, the Rally car started drifting like it's designed to do, and we, well, we just kept on chasing. I believe he was aware of our presence behind him. A little game ensued, trying not to lose our orange car. We ended up at the start of the Rally. Ten other rally cars were parked and getting ready for their timely start. My Ford, the workhorse, was an oddity between the tuned-up beasts all around. Helmless drivers wear white balaclavas when they get out of their car. Imagine fifteen guys walking around with white balaclavas, stretching, taking a leak, and fixing what needs to be fixed before the race. The inhabitants of our newly found world are showing themselves to us.
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