Sunday, 2 October 2011

Arrival in Kosice

I'd forgotten about Shengen. Maybe it's because the UK is so paranoid about its borders, but as I sat expectantly in the railway carriage, passport clutched in my hand, nervous with anticipation of crossing a new frontier, I just assumed a large-hatted border guard would embark the train at one of the lightless, anonymous Hungarian halts and demand my papers. But no. My train passed softly into Slovakia and came to a stop some minutes later at my destination, Kosice.

Did I say a new frontier? Well, that's not strictly true. I had visited this part of the world before, however, the circumstances and the time of my stay means that it feels as if it belonged to a different age. Which, in a sense it did. Back then, as a 14-year-old on a family holiday, it was Czechoslovakia, a country very much in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, only a decade on from the Prague Spring of '68. Getting over the border then, in 1979, was an ordeal which lasted most of the day, as I recall. Visas endlessly checked, the car virtually ransacked and taken apart by zealous but sleepy border guards. Currency exchanged and tensions high before finally we were free to proceed into Bratislava until... the car's exhaust fell off. The next six hours of a somnolent Sunday was taken up with negotiating a temporary retreat and re-entry to the country. Strictly against the rules, but we had stumbled on a group of officials who, thankfully, took pity on our by now frantic family. And so it was that I entered Slovakia for the first time. And I've not been back, until now.

I am in Kosice as part of an exchange programme which is being established by the city's authorities here to allow photographers from Liverpool (European Capital of Culture in 2008, of course) and Kosice, which will have that honour in 2013 to visit each others city and make work. My brief is extensive for a one-week stay: photographing an automobile transmissions factory, producing a project with a local photographer, the enigmatically named Jaris, and documenting White Night, an annual event at which the city is illuminated by installations and performance by creative people from across Europe. And there's also the Kosice Peace Marathon, the longest-established European marathon taking place during my stay. So plenty to do and not much time to blog so far!

The photo shows the scene at platform six of Budapest's Keleti station, just prior to departure on the final leg of a journey that had started in a taxi at 3.30am and taken me via Amsterdam to Budapest and then on the train to Kosice.

For more information about Kosice 2013, please visit

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