Boundary Landscapes – Hilltop Observations

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

This location has been mentioned in a blog post that I made recently.  It was a great spot to sit and absorb the surrounding space.  The running fence (think Cristo) in the distance stretching east and west as far as the eye can see establishes upon the terrain a mark that once made changed everything.  Many artists have explored the contemporary landscape, and I would dare say much more thoroughly and successfully than I have with my Boundary Landscape & Surveillance project, but without making ones own personal efforts to experience and create can we truly say we are making the most of life?  I don’t believe so, and the drive to experience for myself what the world has to offer is what has shaped who and what I am.  In the modern world the viewing of an image or video has replaced firsthand experience, dulling the lived life and strengthening the “good enough” mentality.  While thinking of this replacement of firsthand experience I was reminded of  a recent interview with Felix Baumgartner by the BBC in which the interviewer asked what it was like to stand at the edge of space and why go there when one could just view images of it.  Felix says that the images are nothing like being there.  The image lacks everything that creates AN experience, and through the Arizona project I believe that I discovered that my practice of photography over the years has just been a vehicle for experiencing firsthand those things most people live remotely.  Not as deep of an explanation as I would liked to have had, but there it is.  But this observation has sent a shock-wave through me like a detonating bomb…why not just have the experience, why the need to attempt to make art from it.

The project in Arizona consisted of two straight months of daily toil in the borderlands to attempt to create compelling wet collodion views of the terrain and surveillance environment found there.  An exploration of a terrain and an artificial, increasingly militarized environment that creates and reenforces the identification and aversion of the “other”.  This effect is not isolated to exotic locations like the desert Southwest but can be seen in every suburban neighborhood with it’s hedgerows, “privacy” fencing, varying income levels and political views separating people and drawing lines between “us” and “them” at every level of existence.  The resulting images from my time in the desert are not meant to be specific statements nor plain documentation but meditations on the terrain, space, the passage of time, and the separations and suspensions constructed between us all.  They are visual questions about what my lens was pointed at, and questions about the often unseen lenses pointed at my lenses.

Part of the project was to work in seemingly isolated locations that were under surveillance.  To work physically alone in a vast landscape with the knowledge that my actions are being observed, recorded, and transmitted.  The reality of this is a very specific and particular sensation which does not lend itself to visual recording easily…or possibly at all.  Plates depicting a distant mountain are in fact drawn from a much more complex reality, but this is the truth  for all photography and highlights some of it’s problems which have been written about by people much smarter than I. Since my return from Arizona I have had a few conversations in which I was asked about how the trip was, and I have found myself often replying that it was “a better trip for a writer than a photographer.”


~ by Phil Nesmith on October 24, 2012.

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