Between the Black and White Clouds

PhotographerAnastasia Shpilko
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

"Between the Black and White Clouds" was shot in two towns lying on either side of the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, which separates the last dictatorship in Europe from the European Union. Featuring no captions, the project invites to guess what state is shown on each photograph. Thereby it explores the traces which the common legacy has left on both urban infrastructure and mentality of the two countries, but also questions the ability of photography to represent the political.


“Will you grasp what the mouth, once silent, whispers aloud? In the midst of the void, between the black and white clouds, Above the swampy fields, the light clears the weather With water reflections, the voice of invisible feathers.” Tomas Venclova, Lithuanian poet As in the process of translation a source text gradually loses its meaning, words which have been in use for centuries begin to sound dubious. What images come to mind when you hear “democracy”, or “tyranny”? Would they not be polar opposites? And what does it take to leave the former and step onto the territory of the latter? A wood shimmering with birches, a golden field swaying with ripening wheat, a chain of lakes dazzling with the mirrored sunlight keep running across the East European Plain, leaving the border signs at the Lithuanian-Belarusian frontier disregarded. For a traveller, this would be an unaffordable luxury. A man cannot cross that line without having his documents checked, he is forced to acknowledge that the ground under his feet has changed its title. Once there was a land called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which united under its name both Lithuania and Belarus. Six centuries later, the two countries were listed as parts of the Russian Empire. Then, for decades before the collapse of the Soviet Union, they had been painted red on the political maps of the world. Since 1991, the flow of history has taken Belarus and Lithuania in different directions. Now, the first one is bearing the name of the last dictatorship in Europe, and the other is proud of its membership in the EU. Despite numerous traces of their common past on the both sides, they are situated on opposing ends of the scale measuring the nature of political regimes in Europe. Our age nourishes the illusion of our total ability to distinguish good from bad, black from white. But can one really tell a dictatorship from democracy judging by the facade of a state? Is any political regime tangible or visible at all? And what is a political regime – a name declared in the constitution or another code of laws, mentality of citizens, or probably a level of development apparent to the eye? I went to two towns lying by the Lithuanian-Belarusian border (Visaginas in Lithuania and Lida in Belarus) to see what hides on the doorstep between the EU and the last dictatorship in Europe... When a cyclone and an anticyclone meet, here comes a thunderstorm. History has not proved itself to be more merciful than weather. Yet what I discovered under the marriage of the black and white clouds, gathered by history in the Lithuanian-Belarusian sky, was a realm of serenity and silence, seized up in-between the two times and two worlds. The peace which can be as deceptive as a lull before the storm.

About Photographer

I was born in 1989 in Minsk, now the Republic of Belarus, but grew up in Russia and completed a degree in Journalism at the Moscow State University there. 
During my studies I began to wonder whether journalistic efficiency of photography exceeds that of text. In 2009, I managed to intern as a photographer and picture desk assistant at the business daily Vedomosti, a Russian subsidiary of the Financial Times. Although I spent the whole following year writing for the Russian weekly magazine Ogoniok (Kommersant PH), in the end I chose to attend the MA Photojournalism course at the University of Westminster where I later graduated with distinction. Since October 2012, I am based in Moscow again and am looking to combine in my work the most image and text can offer.