FESTIVAL SELECTEE 2024

NATALIA KEPESZ

The Iron Curtain

In ‘The Iron Curtain’ Polish photographer Natalia Kepesz explores the deja vu-like phenomena of the reestablishing of the iron curtain on the border between European countries and Russia after the war in Ukraine began. More specifically it explores how people in these border areas from Ukraine to Estonia deal with the new divisions that have split families and friends and entangled their everyday lives.

“It was important for me to observe and concentrate on what I was seeing and feeling. I wanted to rely completely on my intuition, I wanted the emotions to be in the foreground. It's a documentary approach, but the working method and results are very personal. I didn't change reality, but I saw and interpreted it in a very subjective way. I've always dealt with war and the significance of war in Eastern Europe in my previous series, so it wasn't difficult to get into the subject. The difficult thing was always adapting to new people and places. Always being ready.”

— Natalia Kepesz

ENTANGLEMENT

Border country connections

Project: The Iron Curtain, by Natalia Kepesz

What is it like to live next door to the new ‘post-war-in-Ukraine’ iron curtain? Polish artist Natalia Kepesz takes us on a journey that explores the contemporary socio-political landscape marked by a new division reminiscent of the historical 20th century Iron Curtain. A deja vu of sorts  with a period, when Europe was split in two along the border of Russia through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine. The project unravels an intricate tapestry of lives affected by the geopolitical shifts in the region.

Natalia Kepesz // The Iron Curtain

The neighbours next door

Through the lens of her camera, Kepesz brings forth the stories of individuals who grapple with the worrying question of what it means to have Russia as a neighbour. 

“I was most impressed by Narva in Estonia. Mostly Russians live there and it is so close to the border you can see Russia beyond the river. Talking to young people there who don’t know what the future holds – and photographing it all in this incredible light. I found that incredible.” 

Navigating a new geopolitical reality

The Iron Curtain captures the essence of diverse experiences, providing a firsthand account of living in the shadow of political uncertainties. This unofficial, yet very perceptible division, resurfaces with closed roads, disconnected pipelines, dormant twinning agreements, reawakened fears, and nuclear threats from the Kremlin. The photographer’s encounter with the region’s inhabitants unveils the complexities of their lives. 

“Usually I was out on my own and approached people, briefly told them what I was doing, asked how they were, and took their portrait. I establish contact when I look through the viewfinder and let people look at me. I like to talk to them and ask them questions during that moment. When I have the feeling that they have arrived at themselves and I can feel the warmth, I take the picture.”

Natalia Kepesz // The Iron Curtain

An uncertain future

Kepesz’ photography opens for conversations with young people, who navigate an uncertain path and can find themselves invisible on geopolitical maps. Her lens captures moments of joy, love, and brief escapes from the harsh realities of the political landscape and tells stories of strength, hope, and resilience amid adversity. The project unfolds the perspective of the people she encounters and how they navigate the entanglement of space, time, and relationships. Families with connections on both sides of the border embody the entwined nature of their everyday lives and futures.

A hopeful depiction of a vulnerable and delicate balance

With an emotionally engaged approach, Kepesz allows the viewers to connect deeply with the stories they see. The Iron Curtain transcends its documentary nature. It is a visual and narrative exploration of the region’s complex realities. 

Through the photographer’s lens, the project offers a unique perspective on the delicate political balance in Eastern Europe and the transformative power of photography in capturing the nuanced experiences of its people. Ultimately, the hope embedded in the strength of the individuals portrayed fosters a vision for the future that transcends the bleakness of political uncertainties.

Natalia Kepesz // The Iron Curtain

ENTANGLEMENT

“I am interested in the interweaving of space, time and relationships. We already had an Iron Curtain. The border with the Soviet Union. Now there is a kind of repetition of history. But what do people who have lived on both sides do? What about people with families on both sides? What does their everyday life and future look like? That's what interested me and that's what drives this entangled story forward.”

— Natalia Kepesz

Text and edit · Felipe Abreu and Christine Almlund

Natalia Kepesz by Pola Kepesz

ARTIST BIO

Natalia Kepesz lives and works in Berlin. After graduating in cultural studies and art history at the Humboldt University, she studied photography at the Ostkreuzschule. She uses photography as a means of self-expression – making pictures for herself, to identify with hidden qualities of her character, to better understand her reality, and to express her interpretation of the world around her.

Selected achievements

    • – 2023 Nikon Fotobus Grant, 3 Prize
    • – 2022 FUTURES Photography Talent, selected by Deichtorhallen Hamburg
    • – 2022 gute aussichten – junge deutsche fotografie, Winner
    • – 2021 Portraits – Hellerau Photography Award, Residence Winner
    • – 2021 World Press Photo Contest, Portrait Series Winner, 3rd Place