Over the course of the past few months, I have becoming increasingly more aware of my reliance on another medium in my experience of the landscape—namely, photography (reading over my previous blog posts reaffirmed this for me). Not photography in the most informal sense of the work, as we so quickly and perhaps unwittingly accept it in our culture of social media and Facebook status updates, of iPhones and a constant and never-ending stream of imagery. When our days are so saturated with onslaughts of photographs and visual materials, it becomes easy to ignore. Rather than becoming a culture that sees, we are one that looks and then ignores.
I am not sure when I realized that this problem existed within my own life, but several years ago I began to change my approach to the landscape—not as a space in which I exist, but something that exists even without, and despite of, me. My presence—human presence—is absolutely unnecessary to the existence of the land, yet we continue to shape it and change it until the landscape memorializes us in our absence.
Nature accommodates our forms, and when our forms are gone, the spaces that we have carved out remain. The landscape remembers our movements and marks, memorializing every step in the same way that we memorialize our own losses and events we don’t want to be forgotten. Every overturned stone, every broken blade of grass, every length of tire ruts and walking paths are the landscape’s remembrances of our presence and our absence. (I hope the reader will note that Derrida has written more beautifully on these notions of physicality, absence, and remembrance than I can hope to.)
In as much as the processes that create these marks are meditations and traditions, so too is the way in which I now experience the land through a camera. While I am reticent to refer to myself as an artist in the purest sense of the word, I don’t think that I would have come to this experience of the land through the photograph had it not been for my background in the fine arts. My experience is premeditated. Before I surround myself in the landscape, I first build small film cameras (out of matchboxes, empty canisters, or anything that can accommodate the film or photographic papers that I use) that I take with me. (I’m happy to show you how if you’re interested.) These cameras have no viewfinders, and there is no consistency in the photographs that are taken—no aperture, no filters, and no way to control the exposure other than by my own physical movements of opening and closing the shutter with my own hand while counting the seconds in my head.
After they are developed and enlarged, the images themselves out of focus; they are blurry, shaky, and the subject matter is obscured. But they are often hauntingly beautiful; in some cases recognizable to a point, and otherwise abstracted. In everyway they are reflection of my experience in the landscape: a memorial of the time and place that I was there, and a remembrance of my absence. They are documentations of a geography traversed, of a topography that bears my marks upon it—absence, memorialized..