The Anthropocene is a rather nebulous term that is thrown about quite a lot lately. According to the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA), it is a term used to ‘denote the present geological time interval, in which many conditions and processes on Earth are profoundly altered by human impact’ (Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’ | Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, s.d.). The word iself combines the root “anthropo“, meaning “human” with the root “-cene“, the standard suffix for “epoch” in geologic time. In layman’s terms it has to do with erosion and sediment transport, rising sea levels, global warming, ocean acidification, species invasions and a host of other environmental and scientific issues. But the Anthropocene has not yet been formally defined in the Geological Time Scale and also needs to be scientifically justified. According to the WGA, we officially still live within the Meghalayan Age of the Holocene Epoch.
While most of us are familiar with the work of Edward Burtynsky – his large scale, aerial, and sometimes abstract-like photographs of river tributaries, tailings and so on, what does this anthropogenic activity look like on the ground close up? I have chosen to look at what I am calling the “rural Anthropocene” (my own terminology), trying to find evidence of this global interconnected human activity that is affecting our planet and how it shapes cultures and individuals. Last year when I was busy with a Landscape assignment, I came across a clearing in the forest. About twenty cars had been discarded there and I returned to the same site for this assignment. I found not only more cars, but propane tanks, oil drums, plumbing pipes, hospital equipment, plastics, and old books to name but a few. I was shocked! How has this disrupted the environment, plant and animal life? In my humble opinion, we don’t need to rely on the sublime to deliver the message of the Anthropocene. We can see the evidence in our own back yard … it all starts small …
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For contextualisation, I have looked at the work of Sophie Ristelhueber, Gregory Crewdson, Gregg Segal and of course Edward Burtynsky. My detailed write ups on their work can be found by following the links provided. I have also reread Sekula’s Reading an Archive – Photography between Labour and Capital (I did a write up about it in 2018, so will just link to that posting) and was reminded that “archives are not neutral: they embody the power inherent in accumulation, collection, and hoarding …” (Sekula, 2003: 446).
I have chosen not to supply captions to the images as they are supposed to contain their own narrative. I have just numbered them for ease of reference for tutorial purposes. My contact sheets of my photo shoots can be seen here. I think this work might present well as a concertina fold out book, or very large prints.
UPDATE: For Assessment purposes I have experimented with creating very large prints, again by quartering an image and printing each quarter at A3+ size. More can be read on this blog post.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills: Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.
Oh to have a drone like Edward Burtynsky! But I don’t and I had to make the best of the scenarios I found myself in and decide how best to capture and convey my rural point of view. At times I had to pick my way very carefully through various debris scattered around the forest floor and found some of my points of view were rather restricted in that I couldn’t back up to get the shot I wanted, so had to make the best of the surroundings. I used my 18-140mm lens which enabled me to zoom past objects in order to photograph my chosen subject matter that would have been impossible to access properly. I watched online tutorials on B&W conversion and experimented quite a lot with B&W for this assignment, but found that quite a bit of visual data became rather lost in this translation, despite experimenting with the various colour slides to obtain tonal separation.
Quality of Outcome: Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, with discernment. Conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
I wanted to document the less dramatic, but still harmful effects that man inflicts on the landscape – the careless attitude of the throw-away society we have become and how that is affecting the rural landscape. I feel I have successfully accomplished this by focusing on the banal and common items we encounter on a daily basis, and this was confirmed in Documentary Hangout 18/7/2019, Rest of the World Hangout 28/7/2019, and some email feedback from my peers. As suggested by my tutor after receiving her feedback, I have replaced my original Figure 5 as the tonal quality of that image was at odds with the rest of the set. I have also changed the order of series, choosing to juxtapose a pull-back shot with a detailed shot, and ending with an image of nature appropriating its rightful space once more.
Demonstration of Creativity: Imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.
Since working on my final assignment in IAP, and discovering some of these strange locations in the heart of the forest close to where I now live, I have wanted to explore this topic. I seem to have a strange fascination with rubbish and this cumulative effect it has on man and the environment – I wonder what Freud would say about that! I experimented quite a bit with B&W conversion as can be seen in my Assignment Preparation posts and this process only served to confirm that this body of work should be in colour.
Context: Reflection, research (evidenced in learning logs). Critical thinking (evidenced in critical review).
The Anthropocene is a vastly scientific, complex subject. I did not want to get bogged down in too much scientific rhetoric, so have provided short explanatory terms above and links for anyone who is interested in reading about this subject in more depth. My intention is to get people to think about their own immediate surroundings and how the effects of our global interactivity (consumerism) is impacting it.
Apart from course work, I have been to the following exhibitions:
I have also done some documentary research:
- Chapter 3: The Documentary Impulse – Stuart Franklin
- A Little History of Photography Criticism; or, Why do Photography Critics Hate Photography? – Susie Linfield (I still have to do a write up on this)
- The Anthropocene
I have taken part in the following hangouts:
- Documentary Hangout – 19 September, 2019
- Rest of the World Hangout – 15 September, 2019
- Rest of the World Hangout – 28 July, 2019
- Documentary Hangout – 18 July, 2019
- Documentary Hangout – 20 June, 2019
Amos, J. (2018) ‘Welcome to the Meghalayan Age’ In: BBC News 18 July 2018 [online] At: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-44868527 (Accessed on 30 September 2019)
Burtynsky, E. et al. (2018) Anthropocene. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario and Goose Lane Editions
Sekula, A., 2003. ‘Reading an Archive – Photography between labour and capital’ In: L. Wells, ed. The Photography Reader. New York: Routledge, pp. 443 – 452.
Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’ | Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (s.d.) At: http://quaternary.stratigraphy.org/working-groups/anthropocene/ (Accessed on 30 September 2019)