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Saturday 12 October 2019

Photo Essay

The wee muckers

The daily lives and future prospects of teenagers in Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Toby Binder

Northern Ireland has been, variously, a forgotten periphery, a nation in civil war, the site of a dirty conflict and, now, the core of the political crisis that is crippling Britain. But it is also a home to two communities who live remarkably similar lives. In 2017, the German photographer Toby Binder sought to demonstrate the common experience of the province’s teenagers.

In some regards, their experiences are normal: the chases, the arguments. The groups, Binder, said, had a familiar teenage dynamic. “There is the cheeky one who tries to provoke the ‘foreign trespasser’… but in a good way…  If you react properly, you’re in! Then there’s the quiet guy who wants to know everything and tries to get you into his group – often younger guys. Then there are clever or open-minded ones who have good standing and try to help you.”

But these children, in some regards, are unique. It is 21 years since the Good Friday Agreement, but the concrete separation of Northern Ireland’s two communities remains. This is still a place of vast bonfires and hurling bottles at armoured police vehicles.

Brexit is raising tensions, but Binder said: “what I found so interesting was that, although young people in the Catholic communities only have an Irish passport – if they have a passport at all – many of them had never been to the Republic. A [potential hard] border seemed like an abstract idea to them.”

The children of Northern Ireland’s two communities have, in some important regards, much more in common with one another than they do with the people they see as their countrymen in Ireland or Great Britain. Binder said: “I told them, ‘You have the same clothes, the same haircuts, the same drugs, the same music, the same problems.’ But somehow it doesn’t work…. The idea was to show that there is more linking them than separating them.”

Shankill (Protestant)

Bonfire preparations on Conway Street

Boy shielding his face from a garbage fire on Caledon Street

Young boy and old men at a parade on July 12th, Crumlin Road

Girls sitting on the pavement at Tennent Street

Boy playing football in front of a Union Jack painted on the wall


Boys on wasteland at Lanark Way

Megan and Joshua

 Girls group at Woodvale Park

A flute band on the parade of July 12th at Crumlin Road

A group of boys on wasteland at Lanark Way

T Jay

Highfield (Protestant)

“Strength, Respect, Loyalty” – a tattoo on Paul’s back

Black Mountain Parade 

Sunday afternoon at Highpark Crescent

Chip, Black Mountain Parade


A girl in the flower tracksuit

Fire on Highpark Crescent

Clonard (Catholic)

Millennium Way


Girls bring drinks to the reservoir in Springfield Road, in a shopping trolley 

Teenagers gather round a fire at the water reservoir in Springfield Road


Boys playing football at night on Springfield Avenue

A group of teenagers at the reservoir on Springfield Road

Sophie and Jade 


 Oisin, Jonjo, Antoin and Lee at the dam



Carrick Hill (Catholic)

Rachel running past police vehicles on Stanhope Street

Teenagers face up to policemen on Trinity Street

 Brendan behind a police line on Trinity Street

A scooter on barbed wire

Phoebe with her dog passing police on Regent Street 


Village (Protestant)

Backyard view on Tates Avenue

A flute band during marching season on Rydalmere Street

Boys on wasteland on Milner Street

book project

Wasteland on Milner Street


Sandy Row (Protestant)

Church at McAdam Park

Teenagers drinking beer and arguing

A boy eating chicken

book project


Bonfire preparations in a parking lot in Wellwood Street

Teenagers in Wellwood Street carpark

Sandy Row street scene

The Neighbourhood


Toby was born 1977 in Esslingen, Germany and studied at the Stuttgart Academy of Art and Design.

Based in Argentina and Germany, he is interested in topics of post-war and crisis situations, as well as in the daily life of people. His work has been awarded internationally, with the Philip Jones Griffiths Award in 2018, the Sony World Photo Awards in 2019 and earlier, in 2017, at the Nannen Preis. The same year he received an honourable mention for Unicef Photo of the Year.

His work is published by Stern, Sueddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Die Zeit, Greenpeace Magazine, Amnesty Journal, Neue Zürcher Zeitung and others.

In March 2019, his first photo book, Wee Muckers – Youth of Belfast,  was published by Kehrer.

All photographs by Toby Binder


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