Our second assignment for this project requires us to create a set of images using the alternative processes we have looked at based on a theme of human presence by human absence, but what does this actually mean?
As a species we have left an indelible mark on our surroundings. From a photographers perspective the goal here is to capture that effect. Many people over the years have done this and I am going to look at some of those here.
John Gossage – The Pond
The Pond is a photo book by John Gossage that was first published in 1985 to wide acclaim. Unlike traditional landscape images that set out to celebrate the majesty of nature Gossage takes us through a narrative of human presence at odds with our natural surroundings. The location sits just outside a typical urban sprawl and is frequented often by those wishing to perambulate its shores. Each new set of footsteps alters the natural surroundings leaving behind the scars of human presence. The above image is one such example of this, the wild undergrowth is cut in two by a pathway, formed through the constant application of feet as people walked through. The permanence of this mark is maintained only through its continued use and without people then nature would reclaim this small divide.
Corrine Vionnet took a completely different view of human presence. Her images appear almost like paintings but they are actually multiple copies of similar photos taken by different people. When overlaid they do not create an exact match and we have this blurry, busy style of image. Even though there are faint traces of people in each image it is not these ghosts that reflect the human presence but the individual behind each shot. Vionnet gathers together the images of famous landmarks taken by various people over time, where each person has taken a ‘typical’ and often repeated image of the same scene. Whether the photographer was a tourist or local they all seem to naturally gravitate to one area to capture their own photo of some famous place or building, perhaps it is because they have seen that image before somewhere and it is buried in the subconscious and this latent memory is drawing them to one spot. We all have a unique view on the world and despite standing in the same place taking a picture of the same subject there is always something a little different about each image and it is this personal angle that Vionnet uses. This is her human presence, a noisy mash of individual perspectives brought together into one photograph.
Simon Norfolk – Scenes from a liberated Baghdad
Wherever humans are there will be conflict. Simon Norfolk is a war photographer who chooses to represent that conflict through images of the aftermath left by people fighting in these areas. The above image is from the second war in Iraq. The majority of fighting has now ceased and lying abandoned are literally hundreds of rusting mortar shells. These destructive units of metal are so plentiful that they obscure most of the natural landscape in which they reside. Weapons designed to destroy now obliterate there surroundings through sheer numbers. This highlights the negligence of human occupation and involvement, once important items now forgotten as the people have moved on to other things.
Elinor Carucci – Closer
The book ‘Closer’ by Elinor Carucci was a series of images documenting the life of her family over a period of around 8 years. The vast majority of the images involved her family and even though they were often only part visible there was always a person involved. However she did on occasion choose to show her family’s presence through their absence. The above image is called Oral Surgery and shows the bloody remnants of some dental mishap, the physical detritus washing away in the sink. In our first term we looked at intimacy and methods of presenting this. Objects in our homes were personal reminders of our presence and Carucci is taping into the concept that these objects can reveal so much about ourselves.
Richard Nicholson – Last one out please turn on the light.
The rise of digital technology has seen many changes to the way photographers work and although there are still people working with film the practice has largely come to an end. The demise of the film print has also witnessed the end of many darkrooms. These cramped workshops were once the figurative second homes to many enthusiast and professional image makers and through the amount of time that was spent in them they began to morph into extensions of their owners personalities. The above image is an example of this type of human presence, as the room has become cluttered with personal trinkets and useless objects. There is a photo on the wall that is neatly framed and presented but now hangs askew, a sign of the prolonged absence of a person who once cared for this forgotten space.
The spaces we leave behind can tell the story of what happened and even though any actual human presence has left, what remains can be profound and moving. We influence, mold and shape our surroundings often unaware of how they quickly come to represent something about ourselves and once we move on an echo remains behind.
We are part of nature, we do not exist as an anomaly in conflict with our natural world but as an integral part of it. We are created from the very same building blocks that everything in our universe is made from and we stand unique only in our sentience.
In John Gossage’s ‘The Pond’ he chooses to represent the human presence as a destructive force, however rather than damaging nature I see it as simply changing nature as one force collides with another. As a species we are still in our infancy but as we evolve and grow we are learning to master our environment and soon we will be able to control and command it. Human presence will soon be defined by falling rain or rows of new trees as we learn to manufacture clouds and forests. Already our very planet when photographed from space has become a beacon of our presence as evidence of our existence shines up from the countries below.