Shades of The Departed
On the afternoon of March 11th, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake — Japan’s most powerful in recorded history — struck the Tohoku region near the northeast coast of Honshu. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives due to the tsunami triggered by the quake, and the exact number of the missing may never be known.
After visiting Iwate prefecture in June, on a photo assignment for The New York Times Magazine, I decided to extend my trip. I wanted to visit my great uncle, who lives in the small fishing town of Shimofuro in Aomori Prefecture to the north, and to stop at Osore-zan (Mt. Osore) along the way.
Mt. Osore is one of Japan’s three holy mountains, and people believe that the dead go to this mountain (O-yama) to make their way to the afterlife. Since childhood, they have been told to stay away, for it is also believed that this active volcano marks the entrance to Hell; many live with an ingrained fear of it, even as adults. This is a place where people go to console the souls of the dead, especially those who died at an early age; some believe it to be the place where you can meet the souls of your departed ancestors and loved ones. Having seen the disaster areas in Iwate prefecture, I felt that I had cause to visit Mt. Osore.
As I walked through a rocky stretch where a strong sulfurous odor hangs above the shoreline, I started hearing screeching noises in the distance that sounded like metal scraping on metal, “Skreeyk… skreeyk… skreeyk…”
— Takahiro Kaneyama, New York City
“Bad faith” is a concept in existentialist philosophy coined by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir describing the habit people have of deceiving themselves into thinking that they do not have the freedom to make choices for fear of the potential consequences of making a choice. Commonly it is understood to mislead or deceive another.
It’s a term that I’ve borrowed to contain a body of photographic work that comes out of recent experiences produced by the volatile relationship I have with my family. In the past year, I’ve spent most of my time between the places I live (Los Angeles and New York City), and the places I’ve traveled to during this ordeal with them (Southern and Central Florida). I’ve created a kind of visual landscape narrative that expresses the tensions inherent in coming to terms with the sadness and longing at end of my parents’ lives when the history of those relationships are filled with abuse, untruths and mental illness.
Landscape photography is a contemplation of the photographer’s relationship to place and experience. The images in Bad Faith are exactly this, but instead of being open and expansive as traditional landscape photography can be, they are narrowly focused to underscore the diminishment that comes as a byproduct of emotional distress. Bad Faith is 30 years in the making, and while not all of that time was spent with this project and its objectives in mind, the emotional landscape that created it was.
— Lorena Turner, New York & Los Angeles
“Alas poor District Six! They are planning your downfall. They wish to make an end to the live throbbing area. They are making Darling Street a dagger pointed straight at your heart. What will I find if, in another life, I revisit the old district?” — The Torch (newspaper), 1940
What is in a landscape? Is it built up by memories as well as by rock and soil? Is it a record of society’s values and ideals etched into the land? Can the land mirror the ghosts and scars of history or can harsh trauma sever the bond between the land and its history?
The forced removals of and destruction of District Six has been called “South Africa’s Hiroshima” because of the effectiveness that such a recognizable entity with a distinct identity and sense of place could be so conclusively removed. Today, much of the land still lies barren.
Set aside to become the District Six Memorial Park, the land has been ignored, allowing the grass and wild fennel to grow wild and a community of otherwise homeless people to move into the area and make it their home.
Signs of Life examines this barren land and the traces left behind by the historic community while showing that the land, despite being forgotten, is actually full of life. This allows the work to question the role of memorials, to ask how present is our history and finally to ask what role land itself can play in understanding our both our past and present?
— Jon Riordan, Cape Town, South Africa
East of London, the Broomway lies at the mouth of the Thames estuary, where the river meets the sea. It’s an ancient public right of way, at least 600 years old, perhaps an Anglo-Saxon drove route. It was formerly waymarked by a series of markers resembling brooms, hence its name. When the tide is out, it provides access on foot to Foulness Island.
The byway has long been notorious as the most perilous in England due to the disorienting nature of its environment in poor visibility, and near inevitability of death by drowning for anyone still out on the sands when the tide comes in. Many people have died on it over the years.
The Broomway leaves the mainland at Wakering Stairs, where there is a causeway over the band of soft mud known as the Black Grounds (or blackgrounds) which separates the mainland from the firmer ground of the Maplin Sands.
— Jack French, Wiltshire, England
Southern Tense is a continuation of Overgrown South. Overgrown South considers the tension between the South of the past, a contemporary South, and how it is often portrayed in a broader culture, “through recognizable and at times stereotypical images.”
Southern Tense considers the ambiguity of a place that is defined by something as nebulous as time. Locations are not mentioned but these are visible features of the Southern United States landscape — not necessarily untouched or natural but topographical inflection, realistic and detailed through geography, autobiography and metaphor.
— Shaun H. Kelly, Oxford, Mississippi, USA
These images are from my ongoing series called Seen by Odd Eyes.
I’ve been trying to see in new ways the locations near my home.
A lot of my recent work has been shot in places that many people would walk past without a second glance. My approach comes out of an increasing familiarity with a location.
Once you have exhausted the obviously “pretty” parts of the landscape, you start to look much closer and realize that beauty can be found in all sorts of places.
I am capturing moments in the landscape that only exist for a very short period and cannot be reproduced because of the light. Those edgeland places where I’ve been shooting the light makes them something more.
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. — Plato
Seen by Odd Eyes has a touch of humans in nature, too. We are inside these landscapes and locations but always are somehow the smaller and weaker part of this bigger picture.
It is we who have forced the water to run like we want; it is we who cut the forests and make big holes in them. We need electricity and power of course, but we also need the calmness and serenity of nature at the same time. We need our seasons, too.
I want these images to show how small we are in long run and how much more we should really look at our surroundings to learn to enjoy beauty and value it more and protect it.
— Mirja Paljakka, Ylojarvi, Finland
For over three decades I’ve photographed the social landscape of the Rust Belt, America’s vast industrial heartland, which extends from upstate New York to the shores of Lake Michigan in the west and into Appalachia south of the Ohio River. The region has been in steady decline since the 1980s, when the industries began closing. The Great Recession was especially hard for Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where I made these photographs. Entire blocks of downtowns were boarded up, factories were dismantled, and houses were abandoned to disintegration. People accustomed to a life of hard work lost their jobs, their homes, and their place in the world.
I think that my photographs are, in part, about the specific identity of a landscape — its topography, its architecture, its history, and the arrangement and decoration of back yards. At the same time, I try to make pictures whose details serve as clues to understanding the values, aspirations, hopes, and dreams of the people who live in that landscape. And setting aside geographical differences, the circumstances of the post-industrial Rust Belt reflect an increasingly ubiquitous inequality found throughout 21st-Century America, where most people aren’t as well off as they used to be, or as they would like to be.
My work in the Rust Belt isn’t finished. Even though the region’s inhabitants were instrumental in electing Donald Trump, their situation under his presidency is inevitably going to get worse. Despite campaign promises, jobs in the coal mines and steel mills are not coming back.
Andrew Borowiec, New York City and Akron, Ohio
I went traveling with my camera, with the idea to explore the concept of depaysement, a French word that represents the feeling one gets in a different place — the feeling of not being at home.
Depaysement is a peaceful feeling, a form of distancing yourself from your surroundings. There is melancholy to it too, the melancholy of suddenly having no past, of witnessing a world that has existed without you and will continue to do so.
I find it more present in the mundanities, where things that are so normal they should feel familiar suddenly have a layer of mystery to them.
Strangers walk by, feeling just as distant and unaccessible as their surroundings. The figure of the stranger becomes a statue, integrated into the landscape.
— Adrien Blondel, San Francisco
I’ve lived in Mannheim, Germany since 1979. I like to show my hometown and also some other cities in Europe in a different way. I have always been attracted to the architecture and the graphic aspect of the buildings, but also the landscape.
Mannheim and its environment have grown rapidly in recent years and are constantly changing. So I look with a camera or with a smartphone (as a sketchpad) at the different districts and try to document their change.
My photography is never purely documentary. With targeted processing I like to create pictures with a painterly touch. People are rarely in my pictures.
I love to slow down by taking photos and this usually happens best in the early hours of Sunday.
— Ariane Coerper, Mannheim, Germany
There is a picture of myself as a child that often comes to my mind: it’s me on my desk, reading the very first rudiments of geology that the teacher wanted us to memorize perfectly. Plate tectonics, continental drift, volcanoes…I was only 10 years old, but I already loved that subject: the idea of something emerging from the center of the earth to its surface, bringing destruction and fear, but also new forms and strange landscapes, was fascinating.
I remember the first time I went to Lanzarote: the transfer from the airport to the little village of Famara is a winding road through a land of grey lava and black ash. I could only see the outline of volcanoes, no trees, nothing else: something completely different from the Italian landscape I was used to. I fell in love with it.
Here I feel a strange energy that distorts my usual rhythm. I want to believe that the volcanoes destabilize me because they open a direct line that runs from the magma to the surface.
— Luana Rigolli, Gonzaga, Italy