In pictures: Shooting the invisible border

The latest issue of Delayed Gratification features a series of panoramic shots by photojournalist Charles McQuillan documenting life on the Irish border. Here Charles explains how the project came about and the technical challenges he faced capturing Brexit’s biggest faultline.

“Of all the photographs I’ve taken of the Irish border, the pinnacle is this series of panoramic shots. The photographs seem to have really struck a nerve and I think that’s because the panoramic style helps to convey the length of the border and the size of the problem Ireland faces.”

“I’d never shot panoramic before, but the idea of using that sweeping style to shoot portraits seemed like a good one. Unlike a wide-angle lens, which tends to create curvature on the image, a correctly positioned panoramic camera gives you an even horizon – which is how I wanted to represent the border. At the beginning I was wondering ‘why has nobody done this before?’, using panoramic cameras for portraits. Then I quickly realised why – because it’s really hard.”

“I shot the series on two film cameras, a Fuji GX617 and a Noblex u150. You only get four images per roll and it takes two minutes to change the roll. So you can’t shoot many photographs. You can only get the subjects in focus by using a tape measure – you need to block the scene like a film. Everything is very precise. So the shoots were totally different to if I’d been using digital, where you can click away and then find the best shot in the edit. With this you have to breathe – take your time to capture the shot.”

“The first shoot was nearly a disaster, though. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I was shooting William Lynch at his oyster farm, and we were caught in a rainstorm. There was no way to get back to the car and the lights and cameras were getting soaked. William took off his coat and placed it over the camera to protect it. This left him in an Aran jumper that was much better for the shot.”

“Another problem was people walking into shot. A panoramic camera captures a lot of background, so in public places people accidentally photobomb you. When I was shooting John Sheridan on the Cuilcagh mountain boardwalk, which runs right up to the border, he had to ask people to stop walking on the boardwalk. They were a bit taken aback until he explained that he owned it.”

“I’m really proud of the series. The fact that the process was slow also added to the project. I got to meet and spend time with extraordinary people who had something to say, but also the patience to let me take the shot. I hope it humanises the issue of the Irish border and gives a voice to the people in the picture. The fact it was technically challenging and took a lot of patience and time seems apt now. We’re all just waiting, aren’t we?”

‘Life in the borderland’, the full story featuring Charles McQuillan’s work, is published in issue #33 of Delayed Gratification. To read the full story, buy the issue in our shop. See more of Charles McQuillan’s work on his site. All images by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

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