Site - lensculture
[23Jul22 p.171] The term Anthropocene has come of age and is now used by scientists, poets, photographers and artists. Edward Burtynsky’s The Anthropocene Project gets a particular mention, along with David Thomas Smith.
The cmat. describes Burtynsky's The Anthropocene Project as, "a collaborative, multidisciplinary body of work that combines art, film, virtual reality, augmented reality, and scientific research, the project investigates human influence on the state, dynamic and future of the Earth";
and Smith's work as created from, "thousands of digital files drawn from aerial views taken from internet satellite images, his work reflects upon the complex structures that make up the centres of global capitalism" (LPE, p.171).
Next Richard Misrach’s Petrochemical America, 2012. We have already encountered the image shown in the cmat (fig. A4) in Exercise 5.1. Misrach revisited industrial sites on the Mississippi River in 2009, having previous photographed them in the 1990s. In his project, he collaborated with Kate Orff who applied a process she called unpacking. She states,
I could see phantom stories within every image …
Richard’s photographs capture a specific moment in time and space, but if you think about time as a continuum—of past-present-future relative to the photographs, and the kind of depth that you can go into relative to the past formation and future of that place—one photograph can touch so many different issues and situations. Kate Orff, 2012, quoted in LPE, p.174
Orff seems to be saying that she uses Misrach's well-judged images as a springboard for contextual research that gives rise to subjective, associative narratives: a rational fictionalisation.
Stephen Frailey (2019, p.86), discussing the work of Joel Sternfield wrote,
A photograph can bring clarity to a past that was not evident at the time of its making. All photographs are time capsules, few are predictive. Frailey, 2019, p.86
Writing about a Capa photograph of a couple walking along a path away from the camera, he in army uniform, she wheeling a bike, he noted that was given different titles on the two times he saw it †,
At first it seems that the entire meaning of the picture changes according to the caption but then one realises that whatever the circumstances surrounding the picture-frame, Capa has deliberately isolated this young couple (making both captions misleading since neither mentions the woman). The visual truth of the photo pushes the circumstances in which it was taken beyond the edge of the frame, out of sight. Following Capa's example, I too prefer to 'crop' the narrative, to concentrate on the story contained by the image, to transcribe the caption inscribed within it. Dyer, year, p.49
Orff's approach is diametrically opposed to Dyer's.
My first thought on reading about unpacking was a 1960s Terry Gilliam animation extrapolating an animal's evolved appearance from just a single found foot. I cannot find an image online.
To emphasise my deconstructionist credentials, outed in Assignment 3, and in the light of the quote from Frailey above which ends, "[a]ll photographs are time capsules, few are predictive", the process of unpacking might be considered a potentially partial, biased and subjective exercise of the eye of the beholder. Tracing events from the date an image was created to the present reality is an exercise in hindsight with Orff's interpolated "phantom stories" inevitably rooted in a personal confirmation bias. Projecting "phantom stories" into the future may provide an interesting fictive exercise, but can be no more than that.
A review in New Yorker magazine (Shaheen, 2012) quotes Orff,
My hope is that by integrating emotion and analysis, photography, research, and speculation, the book can play a role in sparking a deeper discussion about the future of energy and our shared climate and the landscape that we have made Kate Orff quoted in New Yorker magazine, Shaheen, 2012
Melanie Rehak interviewed Orff for Landscape Architecture Magazine (2012) and describes Petrochemical America as,
exhaustive, gorgeous, and haunting …
dense with minute examinations of population displacement, ecology, oil, infrastructure, waste, the industrial food chain, and our collective national addiction to petrochemical products … one of the most comprehensive and intelligent indictments yet of American industry and its effect on the American people; it is certainly the most beautiful. Rehak, 2012
Rehak quotes Orff (my emphasis),
The thing with landscape is it's so hard to see things … So trying to write a book that's accessible in the sense that it's very visually compelling, and then it tells you a certain message, is part of the strategy. Orff in Rehak, 2012
Lovers' Parting near Nicosia, Sicily,
July 28, 1943 (perhaps)
image source: The Guardian
As an evangelist for her cause, Orff is naturally entitled to emphasise whatever message she chooses. But as a hardened deconstructionist, I am inclined to suggest that while she might inform her audience, they will draw their own conclusions. To paraphrase Sontag and laGrange, photographs do not seem strongly bound by the intention of the photographer or their collaborators.
† The titles Dyer saw were Italian soldier after end of fighting, Sicily, 1943 on a postcard and Near Nicosia, Sicily July 28, 1943. An Italian soldier straggling behind a column of his captured comrades as they march off to a POW camp in a book of Capa photographs (1999, pp.48-49). The Guardian titles it Lovers' Parting near Nicosia, Sicily, July 28, 1943.