Robin Hinsch is a photographer on the go. Among other countries, his projects have taken him to Georgia, China, Syria and Senegal. He likes to get close to the action, photographing with artistic pretensions. His SAPAD project took him to a “military Achilles’ heel” in the east of Europe.
You headed to the Suwalki Corridor to photograph your SAPAD project. Can you describe the place briefly?
The Suwalki Corridor lies in the border area between Poland and Lithuania. At the east end it is connected to Belarus, and at the west to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, so it’s defined by four countries. The border between Poland and Lithuania is only sixty kilometres long, so the region really is like a corridor. While the border between the two EU countries can easily be crossed because of the Schengen Agreement, it is not so easy to pass over the borders to Russia and Belarus.
What was the atmosphere there like? Was it a dangerous place to be?
The atmosphere was very special. I took most of the pictures during the autumn and winter months. And in fact, this neglected and diffused mood was precisely what I was looking for. A number of analysts and military experts are going crazy wondering about the best way to defend this small strip of land; however, in doing so they only ever talk about a potential danger, where the possible adversary is only very vaguely defined. In fact, there is no particular danger in the corridor, which was also why it appealed to me.
Where did the idea to visit the area come from?
Following the Russian Federation’s so-called annexation of Crimea, military studies and analyses, above all by NATO, appeared repeatedly in the media, turning the Suwalki Corridor into one of the potentially most militarily explosive regions in Europe. At the time of the imminent European elections, I was thinking about the shift to the right and the ecological miseries in Europe, and I found my thoughts kept on returning to this – metaphorically speaking – European Achilles’ heel. I wondered what the real dangers to our integrity and future might be. From there, I got the idea of using this special place as a kind of starting point for an aesthetic, speculative analysis of Europe.
How long did you stay there and what criteria did you follow when selecting the motifs?
I was in the region a number of times, so I can say that it was at least a couple of weeks for sure. The work deals broadly with themes such as nationalism and migration. Based on this thematic approach I looked for images that might instigate some reflection on these matters.
Your photos are primarily still-lifes, where we see no people. Why?
People are, of course, very important to me; but in this body of work they play a passive role. The project deals with changes of perspective and deferrals, and continuously tries to challenge the viewer to consider new things. The photographs aim to draw the attention towards one’s own person, rather than aiming to look at other people. The intention is to provoke the viewer into taking a look at his or her own possibilities and inadequacies – not to mention their own mistakes.
Have there been photo series that inspired you with this idea?
Not directly, but there are artists who inspire me, of course. These are people like Lee Miller, Gregory Halpern or Sam Contis, for example.
What message do you want the viewers to take home from your pictures?
Danger is often found inside rather than outside.