I met Alice Myers in Scotland on a day when nature was getting the better of us. The sky had cracked open and unleashed a summer's worth of pent-up rain. The ground beneath our feet was dissolving, sucking us into the sticky earth. I was trying not to feel smug about the fact that all I had to worry about was my notebook getting a bit soggy. Alice had several thousand pounds worth of camera slung around her neck. She kept stopping to remove an excess of water from valuable, vulnerable lenses. I was struck by her quiet professionalism. She seemed, above all, to be listening.
As a photographer I keep returning to the invisible, she tells me later, referring to her award-winning work with migrants in Calais, Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun. One photograph in particular draws me in. Two men on a beach are wandering aimlessly in a sea mist behind a couple of traffic cones. The cones just happened to be there, says Alice. I like the way they are almost obscured by the fog and the way the cones divide the space arbitrarily.
Alice is drawn to borders. Before Calais she spent several months in the hot desert between Mexico and the US. Thousands cross there, and many die. But you can't see them, only the marks left on the landscape.
Alice shows me a grid of nine photographs. Each one is a different path, cut through the desert by invisible feet. I stare at the paths, trying to imagine the people who have walked them. I wonder if borders are like airports blank canvases against which individual human stories can be lived and told without the significance of the landscape getting in the way. Alice disagrees. For her, borderlands have masses of overarching, overlapping cultural significance, because their ownership has shifted backwards and forwards. I look at these scratches in the sand and huddles of empty plastic milk bottles and feel as if the ground beneath my feet is tilting.
Refugees have to tell good stories. A complete and satisfying narrative is required to justify their presence in Europe, Alice explains. It strikes me that a good story is something we increasingly require from our landscapes, in order for them to justify their value in the face of economic pressures. But it strikes me also that the stories we tell ourselves about nature are as fractured and unreliable as the stories Alice tells with her photographs and the stories migrants tell the authorities.
Alice shows me some photographs from her time at the Sruth Fada Conn estuary, Co. Mayo, Ireland. Since 2002 there has been strong resistance to the installation of a gas pipeline underneath the estuary. The photographs are bleak, raw. The project is called The Sky is Down on the Ground. Alice describes shadows of clouds that swipe over you like being hit by a train.
Looking at these photographs, which are of big skies and empty, boggy grasslands, I make a final grab for solid ground. I venture that art, particularly photography, might be one way that landscapes get to tell their real stories. The stories that have not been processed by (often competing) human desire for meaning. No such luck. Art just tells yet another story, even less reliable than all the others, says Alice.
Words by Catrina Davies
All photos by Alice Myers. Alice studied photography at Edinburgh College of Art and London College of Communication. In 2008 she won the Jerwood Award and received a development grant from Arts Trust Scotland. She was subsequently published in Guardian Weekend Magazine and Portfolio Magazine. 'Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun' is a book combining drawings, writing and photographs representing migrants trying to cross the border between France and the United Kingdom. It was shortlisted for a MACK first book award 2014. www.alicemyers.net