Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Camera Vacua

I just finished reading David Giles' essay Camera Vacua which appears in the new issue of Paper Monument. The essay addresses the proliferation of, as Giles calls them, "end-of- the-world photographs", the trend in contemporary photography that focuses on the depiction of formless institutional spaces. Primarily, he highlights the work of Taryn Simon, Richard Ross and Thomas Demand as the leading practitioners on this relatively new post-apocalyptic aesthetic. Giles discusses how the absence of human presence coupled with the amorphousness of these spaces creates the allusion of a world where time and history have been utterly negated. Historically, photography has been ontologically rooted in the isolation of a singularly significant moment, producing photographs with a more pronounced autonomy in time and space. With the emergence of this new trend, photography's relationship to tradition has been invariably altered. What "the-end-world-photographers" have supplanted tradition with is a vacuous and indistinguishable vision of the world, one which raises many questions about the functions of these spaces. Photographically, this trend is neither good nor bad. It is simply a manifestation of the world we live in. As Giles states:

"By selecting especially generic spaces and relegating historical cues to the perceptual and emotional perimeter, the photographer constructs an image that obviates this usual act of remembering. In this way, the viewer is prevented from entering into a subjective relationship with the picture, and the memento mori function of the photograph is itself generalized and made impersonal: without the invitation to recall a specific event in the past, we're not likely to consider our own personal march toward death, as is the case with many photographs. Rather, we contemplate these spaces and their implied practices, we recognize that historical time-or civilizational time-as a whole is coming to an end.

In the tradition of fairytales, then, which often achieve uncanny effects by exaggerating our conventional narrative experience of scale (e.g. a shoe blown up to an incredible size), these photos produce unease by hyperbolizing our conventional photographic experience of time. Like all photos they stop time; it's just time at the end of time."

Below are some of the images that Giles uses as examples of "end-of-the-world-photographs."

From Top To Bottom:

Thomas Demand, Copyshop 1999

Richard Ross, Toddler classroom, Montessori Center School, Goleta, California

Taryn Simon, Cryopreservation Unit, Cryonics Institute, Clinton Township, Michigan

All Images © The Artists