FESTIVAL SELECTEE 2024

TOBY BINDER

‘Wee Muckers'

‘Wee Muckers’ is German photographer Toby Binder’s documentary project on how the youth of Belfast in Northern Ireland live in the lengthy shadows of a city historically divided by religion and politics with the latest add-on, Brexit. As a subtle nod to the past, the classic black and white reportage photos reflect these entanglements and a youth that have more in common than what the adult generation and their loaded histories may dictate. 

“The idea was to show the infrastructure, to make this physical division clear. With the portraits and street scenes I wanted to show the similarities. All these kids are just the same. They have the same Nike shirt, the same haircut, and the same beer cans. You can't see any difference at first glance. Their daily lives are very similar. But they just happen to be on different sides – some are on this side and others on that side. I wanted to show what both sides have in common in order to demystify the excuse that is often used, especially by older people, as a justification for hostility and violence: "They are so different from us." And that is simply not true.”

Toby Binder

ENTANGLEMENT

All these kids are just the same

Project: Wee Muckers by Toby Binder

In the heart of Belfast, where the scars of a tumultuous history still mark the landscape, German photographer Toby Binder embarked on a mission to capture the lives of the city’s youth with his project Wee Muckers. Against the backdrop of a city divided by history, religion, and politics, Binder delves into the everyday experiences of teenagers in working-class communities and sheds light on the shared challenges faced by Catholics and Protestants.

With the legacy of a conflict that spanned decades still echoing through Belfast, the historical context looms over the city’s streets. The Peace Agreement of 1998 marked the end of the armed conflict, yet the physical and psychological walls dividing these communities persist. With the Brexit referendum a new layer of tension was added, making Binder refocus his lens on Belfast to document and unfold the narratives of the city’s youth.

Toby Binder // Wee Muckers

The intertwined lives of Catholic and Protestant youth

“When Brexit happened, many photographers focused on English cities with clear leave or remain votes. In Belfast, where Catholics and Protestants live closely, the decision to vote seemed aligned along religious lines. Despite the broader impact on the entire community, people stuck to traditional thinking and voted based on religious identity rather than social concerns. Most Protestants voted to leave, and almost all Catholics chose to remain. This gave me the push to return to Belfast and refocus on young people, who, unable to vote, would bear the consequences of the decisions made by others.”

There is a clear recognition of the thin line that separates identity, culture, and politics in contemporary Ireland. Wee Muckers captures the intertwined lives of Catholic and Protestant youth, highlighting the paradoxical similarities that exist beneath the surface. Despite the strong adherence to their respective symbols of identity and tradition, Binder reveals a shared reality—common clothing, hairstyles, music, and concerns such as violence, unemployment, and social discrimination.

Toby Binder // Wee Muckers

Blurring the lines

To this day there are still walls separating communities in Belfast, a stark showing of the scars left by decades of conflict. This division is skillfully incorporated into the project, highlighting the tangible barriers that persist today and contrasting to the similarities found when Binder photographs the youths from the two different groups. There is an intentional blurring of lines, showcasing the youth’s shared humanity, irrespective of their religious backgrounds.

The essence of Wee Muckers lies in the personal connections forged by Binder with the people he photographed. The artist spent considerable time building trust and rapport with his subjects, visiting the same communities repeatedly. The resulting photographs offer a nuanced perspective, capturing the resilience, vulnerability, and shared aspirations of the young individuals living in the Northern capital.

“There’s a significant presence of what you can call tradition or history in daily life, making it challenging for young people to forge their own paths. A sad aspect of this work is that three of the photographed kids have passed away by suicide. It’s a complex issue, possibly rooted in the pressure imposed on young kids. When someone feels they can’t conform to expectations, navigating life becomes very challenging.”

Breaking free from the past

The artist’s choice to center the narrative on young people stems from a belief in their potential for change. In their formative years, these individuals navigate challenges and opportunities, representing a pivotal point where positive transformation is possible. Binder captures the complex interplay of history, identity, and contemporary challenges that entwine the lives of Belfast’s youth. The entanglement is palpable, reflecting the struggle to break free from the constraints of the past and envision a better future.

As Wee Muckers unfolds, it becomes evident that the project is not merely a reflection on the present but a contemplation of Belfast’s future. The challenges faced by the youth, including the specter of suicide, highlight the pressing need to address the mental health and well-being of a generation still grappling with the shadows of history. Binder’s work prompts reflection on the urgency to overcome entrenched divisions, fostering a shared vision for a more inclusive and hopeful future in Northern Ireland.

Toby Binder // Wee Muckers

ENTANGLEMENT

“In our interconnected world, everything seems entangled, with things tied to one another. This is especially felt in Belfast, where everything is so connected and separated at the same time. Young people there grapple with escaping this feeling, this pressure to conform to societal expectations. In a city like Belfast, finding one's path is particularly challenging in these conditions.”

Toby Binder

Text and edit · Felipe Abreu and Christine Almlund
ARTIST BIO

Toby was born in Esslingen in 1977 and studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart. As a socially committed documentary photographer, he focuses on underprivileged and marginalized communities in long-term projects. He often takes the perspective of young people. Toby’s work has a long record of international warads and honorable mentions.

Selected achievements

  • – 2023 Festival of Human Rights Photography BCN-DH, Barcelona
  • – 2023 Festival della Fotografia Etica, Lodi
  • – 2023 Winner “LensCulture” Portrait Awards
  • – 2023 Shortlist Sony-World-Photography Awards
  • – 2023 Winner “Life Framer” Award ‘Humans’