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Bordering on Beauty Swiss photographer captures changing nature of borders

Ellhorn, Switzerland

Living in a small country surrounded by other states, borders feature in the daily lives of many Swiss and become a focal point while closed during the coronavirus outbreak. Swiss photographer Roger Eberhard captured images of borders in a project that took over three years to complete, resulting in a book that has now become particularly relevant.

The artist and publisher from Zurich said he wanted to make a book about borders to show “a visible and ever-changing cartographical puzzle of our world”. Eberhard sees country boundaries as “fluid” and tied to politics, citing how the number of countries in the world has changed since the 1960s.

In light of entry bans, border walls and mass migration being regularly on the global news agenda, Eberhard wanted his photography to reinforce what he sees as the “transcience of these man-made markings”.

Furggsattel, Valais Alps, Switzerland

The top station of the ski lift to Furggsattel Glacier, Zermatt, used to lie in Italy and now belongs to Switzerland. Because of climate change, the glaciers of the region shrunk and caused a shift of the watershed boundaries between the two countries. 

(Roger Eberhard)

He travelled from country to country to gather the images for ‘Human Territoriality’, published in March 2020. His aim was to show how lines on a map sometimes fade, move or become overgrown in reality, and as such, he only took photos of locations where the borders have changed, disappeared or even where the countries that used to be on either side have ceased to exist.

The Yellow River, China.

Yellow River, China’s second-longest, meanders over 5,464km near the Tibetan Autonomous Region to the Bohai Sea. In 230 BC, Prince Ying Zheng of Qin, the westernmost state, set out to conquer the other four kingdoms. The Qin dynasty lasted 15 years, making it the shortest in Chinese history. After his death in 210 BC, the Han dynasty began, but the imperial system of government it had introduced lasted over two millennia until 1912, with only some adjustments.

(Roger Eberhard)


Rakaw, Belarus

Rakaw is an urban settlement, 39km west of Minsk, with a population of approximately 2,100. A person who was born in Rakaw in 1905 and remained in the village for 90 years would have had a few different nationalities over the 20th century. After being born in the Russian Empire and witnessing German occupation during WWI; the villager would have become a citizen of the second Polish Republic in 1922 and of the Soviet Union in 1939. The Third Reich briefly occupied Rakaw in WWII. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the villager would have received a passport from newly-independent Belarus. 

(Roger Eberhard)

Each image in the project has a story behind it, poetically depicting a time and place in history, and showing what happens when politics or climate change alter the way we see the world.

Two Swiss locations matched his criteria: Furggsattel, a mountain pass in the southwestern canton of Valais, was one of them. The other was Ellhorn in eastern Switzerland, which became a focal point during World War II for the Swiss.

Switzerland wanted to include neighbouring Liechtenstein in its national defence programme because its position was ideal for an attack on the Swiss border. Liechtenstein was unwilling to hand itself over due to its relations with Germany at the time. Finally, after negotiations, financial and territorial compensation, Liechtenstein handed over various locations of strategic and military importance to Switzerland, including the striking Ellhorn (shown in the first picture). The 758-metre mountain has belonged to the municipality of Fläsch, Switzerland since 1949.


São Vicente, Brazil

In 1494, the Portuguese Empire and the Crown of Castile – or Spain - agreed to divide all newly discovered lands outside Europe between them. The treaty did not specify the exact coordinates of the border and at the time, neither party was aware that the line crossed the tip of Brazil. The Portuguese Empire claimed the country now called Brazil in 1500, and the town of São Vicente, founded in 1532, was its first permanent settlement.

(Roger Eberhard)


Born in 1984, Roger Eberhard studied photography at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California, and at the Zurich University of the Arts.

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