‘The meaning of place is grounded in an existential or lived consciousness of it’ (Tilley, 1997) In the reader a distinct difference is made between space and place. This difference is made by the people who live in it and become attached to it in a certain way. The more I think about it, the more I realize that there is an important aspect of access to a specific space in order to make it a personal place. Photography gives access and opens opportunities to attain this sense of place, even when there is no physical access to it (anymore).
The photographers discussed in this part all touch on the accessibility to places, either through photographing the people who have transformed the space into a place, or by immersing oneself in such a way that the space becomes a personally lived in place. With the discovery of places and their meaning for the respective inhabitants the photographer can either go looking for specific elements that they expect to encounter, find different meanings that it may have to different people, or let the place do its work on them personally.
These different approaches are very visible in the photographers described in the reader. I read an interview with Jens Olof Lasthein in LensCulture who tells about his experiences photographing a new, unkown space:
‘A certain kind of magic is only achieved when I work in an area where I feel resonance. … For an outsider this all presents a paradox, for the locals, this is just the way it is. Being an outsider, I was personally very attracted to this complexity.’
Lasthein explores a space from a very personal offset, even though he works in the tradition of documentary photography.
‘Exploiting the surrounding world to investigate and interpret some thoughts and feelings which puzzle me … dependent on getting impressions from the outside to keep things moving inside, with luck, this process opens up the flow of an expression that mirrors the clash between reality and my imagination.’
He calls his work flow and final selection a concentration and accumulation of experience. It fascinates me that Lasthein works from such an inner feeling and through that is able to take photographs that are accessible to a broad public, giving a big narrative about bankrupt nations, but focusing on the individuals in the story. Maybe by consciously pulling off all ideas of objectivity you are able to touch on a reality of a place that is recognizable and readable even by people who have never been there. There is truth to be found in that.
I also found recognition in Subotzky’s work, how he describes that you can be looking at something that you have always known, but never seen. In his Beaufort West series, Subotzky shows us images of a city that I have actually travelled through. We see an aerial shot of a prison right smack in the middle of a city’s roundabout. People drive past it every day, never realizing what is behind these walls. By focusing on these kind of places and its inhabitants, I am confronted with the fact that so many spaces are filled with history and longing that I just don’t know of. Subotzky is able to show this oblivion and goes further, he adds a temporary feel to the places through photographing its inhabitants in such a way that they seem ‘out of place’.
‘In each photograph the subjects transport themselves elsewhere: where, precisely, we’re not sure’.
Why is it that nobody seems comfortable where they are? For the incarcerated this question seems obvious, but how about the inhabitants of the village? Are they longing for the past, the places they lived before? Are they planning to move elsewhere? What effect does this have on the infrastructure and look of the village itself? Subotzky photographs speak of this temporary feeling. I wonder if we see this because he is not an inhabitant himself, or because of his preconceived ideas?
Goldblatt’s approach goes a bit further, since his work show more deserted places, devoid of people. However, there are clear marks of how the place used to be inhabited, triggering questions of what happened, why it ended and the ongoing consequences for the people who are still inhabiting the space. I saw similar themes in Guy Tillim’s work, history pooring out of every inch of the photo while there are still people occupying the portrayed space. Realities are shaped by its history, the way its been experienced right now and the course that the future will take on it.
To me it seems that these elements can trigger a type of documentary photography, that, if there is a willingness to delve into and study, will be able to rise above the actual place that is portrayed and help its viewers to expand their ideas and notions about a space and its inhabitants.
LensCulture, J. (2017). Meanwhile Across the Mountain – Interview with Jens Olof Lasthein | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/jens-olof-lasthein-meanwhile-across-the-mountain#slideshow [Accessed 13 Mar. 2017].
Hyperallergic. (2017). Photographing the Crossroads of Life and Death in South Africa. [online] Available at: http://hyperallergic.com/169427/photographing-the-crossroads-of-life-and-death-in-south-africa/ [Accessed 13 Mar. 2017].