My work researches the Anthropocene, traces and perspectives of our civilization; it encloses the correlation between photography and the built environment and between research and documentary practices. My projects are outlining human geography, environmental and geo-political themes. In human geography, the idea of meaning has been central to the notion of place since the 1970s. More importantly, it finds its roots in the Roman concept of Genius Loci, the spirit of the place, and previously in Aristotle and Plato. I often refer to these ancient notions to investigate the labyrinth of observations that we are used to call geography and history.
Photography is an autonomous language that has given us the power to get to the surface of meanings. Like this text you are reading, photography has the ability to travel space and time as a polyhedral archaeology of human ideas¹. Photographs are not what we see, but they are anything else what we can understand from them. So I like to think that images are some kind of abstract space; a hyper-surface where every act of perception is an act of creation.
My approach focuses primarily on the combination of facts before coming to the composition and other aesthetics. Sometimes I cross the field of visual-audiovisual arts with the use of cartography; but my favorite instrument remains my large format view camera. The amount of research and time that I take to explore and document those places has nothing to do with the rush of today’s consumption of images. This introduces also the ethical question regarding how or why a photograph is being taken, used, presented and how reliable its content is.
My work is avoiding the traditional photo series that act as registration and repetition of a specific subject. Contrarily, and probably also as a result of my mixed background, they are based on a multiplicity of landscape perceptions². I use the bi-dimensional medium of photography to challenge the space through a spatial analysis. This becomes more evident in my exhibitions and installations, characterized by a meticulously detailed form of storytelling.
Photography represents to me an act of exploration that allows me to create a real-time spatial and cultural reflexivity on the planetary boundaries. I want to change the story while it is being told; trying to use photography not only as a form of art but also as an act of activism.
Landscape talks its own language; through the seasons and the elements that we perceive in space and time.
— Denis Guzzo, Amsterdam, Netherlands
 polyhedral archaeology of human ideas: is a definition created by Denis Guzzo that also refers to the investigation of space and natural elements initiated by Plato with the Platonic Solids.
 multiplicity of landscape perceptions: this definition was created by Denis Guzzo and was the title of his graduation thesis in 2010.
The topics we deal with (abandonment, loneliness, construction, renewal, silence, etc.) are common emotions and feelings. We invite the viewers to imagine what, who, where, and when something happened.
It is like telling the emotion of a trip, but showing only the central stage; by removing part of the information gathered on the way, we shape something similar to a forgotten slide, lost by a distant relative, not knowing by whom it was taken, where or when.
— Barbara and Ale, Milan, Italy
Making It Home is a series of photographs shot between 2014 and 2015 that explores the re-settlement of 11 Irish ex-servicemen to Cleenish Island, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Began during the Centenary of World War One the project explores the story and legacy of this unique part of the post war re-housing scheme developed under the Irish Land (Provision for Soldiers and Sailors) Act 1919. Inspired by the postwar regeneration drive in Britain the idea of “homes fit for heroes” became the guiding force in what became an Anglo-Irish project to house and grant land to eligible Irish Ex-Servicemen who fought in the war.
Cleenish Island itself was a curious site to build these homes, given that there was no access except via boat. Combined with the fact that of the eleven men granted homes many were suffering from either mental or physical injuries from the war and had little or no experience of farming, it is not surprising that many of the men found life on Cleenish very difficult, and looked to build a life somewhere less isolated only a few years into their tenancy. By the time a bridge was built in 1956 only one man remained on the island — named Johnny Balfour. The fate of the rest was unknown until recently. Upon walking the island today only Johnny Balfour’s home, which is still inhabited by his son and daughter, remains intact. The other 10 homes are largely in a state of complete disrepair or completely demolished, leaving today only ruins of these former soldiers’ homes.
By connecting to a site such as Cleenish Island to the war crossed men that once lived here we indelibly link the site to this time in history and place it amongst the long list of sites bearing stories from the aftermath of conflict. The landscape and remaining soldiers’ houses of Cleenish Island now serve as a biographer to this time, allowing us to place a specific site to each man so that we may remember them and their continued struggle to survive, and re-build their lives after making it home.
— Mark Rhead, London
I like boundary, light and shades — the limit. Projecting out this fondness, the components blend together and compare one to another. There’s a space for all and one for privacy. I choose this way, the doorway, end of the stairs, a front step. Over the threshold, a part of comic, sometimes part of tragedy spring up and what I bring to light — it’s something simple and sober, but also sophisticated. It’s an accurate view, a momentary glimpse, another space changing or not in due time. I’ll drop by again and all standing next will have a photograph taken: small houses, vanished stores, places on a human scale. Work to be done from day to day.
— Denis Thomas, Bordeaux, France
Spaces of Occurrence charts a transitional and unsteady topography replete with paradoxes: artificial and natural, crumbling and blooming, geometric and wild. My interest was in documenting the organic conversation between ecology and architecture in Montreal’s Old Port, a historical area where the seemingly static urban landscape provides a structural basis for an ever-changing and dynamic network of invasive flora. Here, the buildings and plants have aged together, co-creating new forms and configurations that have over time deviated entirely from the intent of their architects. An untamed element of wilderness and chaos is introduced by nature into the architectural landscape — one which was originally built to reflect the order, precision, and stability of its society.
— Maela Ohana, Montreal, Canada
Our first photobook, Missing Buildings, seeks to preserve the physical and psychological landscapes of the Second World War in London.
Over a million of London’s buildings were destroyed or damaged by bombing between 1940 and 1945. From the mysterious gap in a suburban terrace, to the incongruous post-war inner city estate, London is a vast archeological site, bearing the visible scars of its violent wartime past. But this work is not a simple record of bombsites; to our generation, the war is the distant story of an epic battle, passed down to them through books, images, and grandparents’ memories. Blurring fact and fiction, our book searches for this mythology, revealing strange apparitions of the past as they resurface in the architecture of the modern-day city. For us, Missing Buildings contemplates the effects of war upon the British psyche and suggests that the power wrought on our imaginations by the Blitz is a legacy as profound as the physical damage it caused.
— Thom and Beth Atkinson, Kent & London, England
The Final Day is a hyperlocal, intimate look at my neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin. I reject the notion that travel and the exotic are somehow integral to photography projects. The photographs in this series were all taken within walking distance of my house over a period of 100 days. After shooting, I came up with a presentation based on a narrative of a three-day countdown to an unmentioned event that takes place after the final day. As we get closer to the event, the photographs grow more and more tense.
— Chris Norris, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Where the Land Rises is a photographic series documenting the relationship between the landscape and people of Heimaey, the only inhabited island of Vestmannaeyjar, a volcanically active archipelago in southern Iceland.
Isolated from the Icelandic mainland by the North Atlantic Ocean, Vestmannaeyjar is a dramatic fleet of around 15 islands. Heimaey, which literally means Home Island, is the largest of these islands with an area of approximately five square miles and home to a population of 4,300 people. Two cindery domes dominate the island’s horizon, sitting like residual slag heaps from a heavy industry long abandoned. These volcanoes, known as Eldfell and Helgafell, reveal the temporality of the
Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Lying directly between the shifting tectonic plates of Europe and North America, the geology of the Vestmannaeyjar range is relatively new, having been formed by multiple volcanic eruptions during the past 12,000 years.
In the early hours of 23rd January 1973 the island of Heimaey suddenly split open, sending columns of lava into the sky from a mile-long fissure. The eruption of Eldfell — as the 42-year-old volcano is now known — led to the immediate evacuation of the island, destroying many homes and violently altering the geography of Heimaey. For this reason, the island is often cited as the “Pompeii of the North.”
As the lava flow slowly crept towards the fishing harbour, threatening to destroy the island’s economic lifeline, interventions were made to divert the drifting magma. A dam of solidified basalt was successfully created by spraying the flow with billions of litres of seawater. In early July 1973 the eruption was officially declared over and many of the inhabitants began to return, although some would never come back. The island had been saved but the landscape would never be the same again. In less than six months Heimaey had grown by an area of 20%. The new landscape formed by the eruption is a topography significantly influenced by mankind and the event is cited as an archetypal example of man’s ability to conquer the overwhelming power of nature.
Where the Land Rises captures the stark coastal terrain of Vestmannaeyjar, a restless landscape forged by an intense geological violence that originates deep within our planet. Nevertheless, the landscape of Heimaey is revered by its inhabitants as a home; an island refuge in an often unforgiving environment. My portraits document some of the people who live there; the permanent occupants of a landscape exposed to ongoing forces of destruction and creation; the everyday witnesses of a terrain intricately textured by an ever-changing climate. A people who exist between a landscape gone and a landscape to come.
By documenting the portraits and stories of several people who experienced the eruption of Eldfell,
I was able to imagine a past landscape now lost beneath the lava and investigate a moment in Heimaey’s recent history when the island’s entire community came unnervingly close to losing everything.
Where the Land Rises explores the complex interrelations between the changing environment and mankind against the unpredictable geography of Vestmannaeyjar and the surrounding extremes of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. In examining this space, I present themes of isolation and man’s inherent longing for order within a fluctuating environment. By further detailing the lasting affects of the eruption of Eldfell I introduce ideas of loss, remembrance, the passing of time, and the chance for new beginnings. Where the Land Rises ultimately considers our perception of the landscapes that surround us, but more significantly, how the changing environments we inhabit shape the human condition.
— Peter Holliday, Glasgow, Scotland
I began this project during an artist residency in Iceland in August 2014. I was on a road trip when warnings of the possible eruption of the Bárðarbunga subglacial stratovolcano begun. Watching some apocalyptic media coverage while consulting webcams and data from surveillance systems influenced me to make audiovisual recordings of remote monitoring devices, of the territory’s transformation due to volcanic activity, as well as geothermal phenomena and power plants. Made of field recordings and stationary camera shots, the audiovisual piece has a documentary style. Due to its non-linear structure, the work unfolds in an unpredictable manner and its conclusion remains unknown.
The piece consists of a database of hundreds of video loops presented according to the evolution of a statistical model that integrates data coming from the sensors of the computer that runs the installation: temperature of components, fan speed and energy consumption. This information is displayed as unidentified graphs on a second screen. High levels of activity and electricity consumption will lead the device to display energy-charged audiovisual scenes, while low levels will transport the audience to contemplative spaces that seem to be frozen in time. The system’s monitoring influences the course of events it presents, and vice versa.
— François Quévillon, Montreal, Canada
Taken over a month-long journey, the photographs are a visual engagement with the immediate surroundings, noticing subtle moments in the ordinary. Observing traces of everyday life, the camera’s frame was used as a tool to record happenstances. Led by accidental arrangements left behind by the passer-by it becomes an interaction with a stranger and reflects ephemeral moments of chance encounters.
— Christina Evans, Winchester, England
Deindustrialisation is a process of social and economic change caused by the removal or reduction of industrial capacity or activity in a country or region.
For most of the 20th century, Fleetwood was a prominent deep-sea fishing port, but, since the 1970s, the fishing industry has declined precipitously and the town has undergone economic difficulties. I am very interested in the way this has affected the landscape and the area.
The Port of Fleetwood provided ro-ro (roll on-roll off) traffic to and from Northern Ireland and was a busy fishing port for many years. The port played a significant role in enhancing the connectivity of the wider region and the movement of freight, as well as providing jobs. Aspirations to revive this role remain, so operational areas at the port are protected and safeguarded with fences and barbed wire.
Questions of land use, industry and the effect of the decline on the economy, form the basis of the enquiry. The main concept is to represent the effects of deindustrialisation on a specific place and to show how this affects the political landscape.
— Andrew Mellor, Lancashire, England
Much of my work could be seen as an attempt to decelerate or suspend the irreversible flow of time. The Out of Season series uses the disappearing motels of Wildwood, New Jersey as its subject matter and endeavors to bring out the interplay of an idealized past and its inexorable disappearance.
People inhabit these images only by inference and allusion; and in many ways, it’s this physical absence from which the work draws its strength. Impressions are made at a more elemental depth, below explicit communication, echoing that most universal of all human experiences: the relentless passage of time what is left behind in its wake.
When I make photographs, I continually find myself coming back to something Milton Glaser said: “I am more interested in what you can’t tell a story about. Which is to say, the overtones of our subconscious, the connections that are made below the level of narrative.”
— Mark Havens, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
My work is concerned with landscapes faraway, journey and memory.
Akmê (from the ancient Greek word “summit”) is a series of 19 photographs taken within this last year in arctic and antarctic polar zones. It falls both within a documentary approach made of distant sobriety, and a research of aesthetic writing.
Mountains of Arctic Spitsbergen, Chilean fjords, Tierra del Fuego or the Antarctic Peninsula — the summits are dissimilar but somehow always the same. Inaccessible, indomitable, they are isolated from their landscape to be unified in a resurgence of the sublime.
Tangible marks of the changes of the planet, these heights are out of scale, appeased in temporality.
— Lorraine Turci, Montreal, Canada
I was born and grew up in a southern coastal city of China, witnessing the development, transformation, as well as the increasing contradictions.
Last year, I tried to use the most direct approach to take the photos along the southeastern coastal line. What I saw was completely different from that in my childhood as the result of the construction projects.
All the things lost their identity, which made me feel the change here was so fast, including not only the environment, but also the customs, beliefs and families.
At that time, a sense of strange and sad was raised in my mind. What I can do now is to
slowly pick up these memories, which is a return and desire as well as the most
primitive expression of my heart.
— Xuecong Lin, Shenzhen, China
© Jessica Auer
Four artists, all of whom were featured on this blog, came together last month in Portland, Oregon, to reflect on a show of their work, Women in the Landscape. Zach Krahmer made a video of the discussion at Newspace Center for Photography, which hosted the exhibit. Jessica Auer, Jennifer Colten, Lauren Henkin and Dawn Roe participated in the discussion, moderated by Paul Sutinen. The 83-minute video is here.
The artists’s websites, well worth studying, are here: Jessica Auer, Jennifer Colten, Lauren Henkin, Dawn Roe.
© Jennifer Colten
© Lauren Henkin
© Dawn Roe