The impetus of this work was to explore traces via photographs of power, work, and energy – both as human labor and also from a material perspective – the machines that aided people, that transformed matter from one state to another, that consumed energy, that produce energy, that transform motion from circular to linear, and that made it possible to build, live, and dwell in a certain manner. In essence, the work is concerned with the underlying effort that has given rise to the form of our town and cities, houses and communities.
The criteria for selecting the materials out of which this work would be made was quite simple – great photographs, all found on the internet. There was no concern over ownership. I was just interested in photographs that tell a compelling story. They were photographs of factories and power plants, assembly lines, detailed work and fabrication; nuclear reactors, coal plants, hydroelectric damns, water mills, arms manufacturing plants, bombs, and nuclear explosions. But they were also photographs of agriculture, people working the fields, harvesting, and shipping. They were of oil refineries and mines, offices, train lines, and the process of building all of this. They constantly move between the size of these vast industrial endeavors and the humble scale of the people responsible for making it happen. At the same time, these photographs were also of the houses, mansions, and castles that those who controlled all of this energy built. They trace the opulence that solidified their constantly expanding enterprise in stone at a particular moment – a cocoon to keep them safe for a few years. Ultimately, these edifices would not survive ill health, rising cost of urban land, death, and the next generation. They would almost all fall to a wrecking ball. In their wake, they would leave the industrial conglomerates created by their owners behind as wildly influential edifices and institutions that structure how we live and even what we consider to be possible.
In many ways, I wanted to explore the image of this power structure in order to access a universal dimension. I didn’t so much want to explore the concept of a universal, but the image of the world – what it looks like when taken in all at once. I wanted to ask how broad of a horizon one can open? What are the limits of the field of perception? What are the extents of the patience that one might need to have to see and comprehend this vastness?
At the same time, I wanted to confront that globality with a specific vantage point. I wanted to contrast this general perspective of the world that is tied to a documentary viewpoint with a perspective from a specific place and time that is grounded in and conversant with the ground. I wanted to ask where and with whom we are standing and what we might overlook while standing there. In this sense, I wanted this personal perspective to define an alternative concern with the materiality of the world through an encounter with a specific condition that might cause one to pause and make a photograph.
This was achieved by confronting the endless collection of photographs available on the internet with my own finite archive of photographs that I have taken over the last couple of years. These images are not overtly concerned with power, energy, or work, but are entirely made possible by the expenditure of energy, past work, and a privileged vantage point that has created energy structures. They document my fortunate ability to move through the residual of history as well as the capacity to engage with the traces of the past with a comprehensive understanding of history and philosophy that allows me to understand a great deal about what I am encountering – the myths and the concrete stories that propel us forward as a society. In these images, however, they are reduced to just an image – flat and mute – without the depth of understanding that I might convey if standing alongside my work. In their juxtaposition between specific and universal, however, I have defined my ambition to give voice to these images.
This process takes place through cutting both sets of photographs and then combining one set with the other. The combined photographs break the conventional 8.5”x11” format. This expanded field is then pulled together via the introduction of a painted geometry that calls attention to the page as a surface independent of the content of the image. These sheets are then further combined with others to continue to expand the field of vision. Finally, a “negative” black field / geometry is added as well as a point (or set of points) that calls attention to a specific moment. This point or points offer(s) the viewer an entry that gives the work a local temporality in contrast to the time of my personal photographs and the much deeper time of the found photographs.
My ultimate goal is to contemplate how the future is constructed out of the materiality of the present. I believe that the future cannot come about in any other way. All that we need is around us. We are already in the future that we will inhabit. We are just too often tethered to the past. The capacity for imagination is determined by what we’ve heard and read and seen. The experiences that we’ve had, the utopias and failures that we have encountered, departures and arrivals, the consequences of steps taken and people we’ve met, the conversations, ambitions, goals, visions, success and failures that set a path by which we arrive here with a specific outlook, capacity, authority, and ability to manifest a vision of the future – to marshal resources and people and money towards a particular end that extends from the field of vision encompassing the past and present.
This future should have a lot of things in it that our current world does not. It should function differently and work for more people than it works for right now. We are living through a moment when we’ve realized that “precarity” does not just apply to cultural workers, freelancers, and people with degrees in art history, but that the entire global economy is precarious, that our relationship to nature is precarious, that our health is precarious; that our supply chains are precarious, and that our interconnectedness is greater than we know. We are part of one massive global organism that must be taken care of.
The future that I imagine takes care of this organism. The people who live in this future are not abstractly concerned for one another, but take concrete actions – make investments and sacrifices – for a genuinely sustainable future. This will involve taking care of our health, providing universal access to healthcare as a basic human right. We must prevent illness from escalating. Most importantly, we must not claim bodies that are not our own. We must stop making subjects of our biological nature. Everyone should be allowed to remain autonomous and make their own decisions. Perhaps we should start by criminalizing ideologies of the body so that our bodies are free. This will ensure that our movement together and as individuals is respected and guaranteed by being grounded in the universality of the human condition. As this occurs, we must seek to explain and communicate this condition to those who have fallen victim to the ideologies of the body that seek control towards some other ends.