Ihar Hancharuk
What if I am a Spy?
PRAFOTA 2020 Art Photography Short-list
After spending a few years abroad, I returned to Belarus, my home country, with the intention to make a photography project dedicated to the national identity of Belarusians. Having lived in foreign countries, outside my usual environment, for a long time I was convinced that the topic was relevant to me. I felt I wanted to get reacquainted with my fellow Belarusians. However, when I just started photographing, I encountered an unexpected reaction to what I was doing: besides the common questions, such as 'Who are you?' or 'Why are you photographing?', I also heard a very strange one: 'Are you a spy?'. I was asked just that, although I had always been photographing openly and in non-restricted areas. I gradually realised that distrust and suspicion had become part of the Belarusian people’s national identity. I believe it has to do with the country’s complicated political situation as well as with the government’s all-pervading control. An unfamiliar person with a camera who talks to people in Belarusian, while the vast majority of Belarusians use Russian in everyday life, is viewed as a suspicious character. People take me for a non-government media representative and are therefore fearful of me, since contacting somebody of the sort in Belarus may often cause trouble with the authorities. "So, maybe I ama real spy?" I asked myself and began to photograph unremarkable urban landscapes, public places and elements of the urban environment — everything that most people never associate with espionage: "So, you want to hide this?" I photographed openly, I took plain and dull pictures to represent the atmosphere of paranoia all around myself. While working on the project, I also found a couple of objects, at my own place, which might be associated with espionage if placed in a certain context. By putting these pictures together, I created a fictional story of an "unwitting spy". So, maybe I ama spy myself?

Baranavičy, Belarus, 2018
Short-list 2020: