When I first looked at this assignment, my original idea was to do something as close as possible to the traditional realm of “decisive moment” photography: street photography with strong geometrical elements and human presence. I even contemplated at one point, early on my thinking, to either use B&W film and gelatin silver prints, or present the digital prints rendered in monochrome to fit the original aesthetics of the concept. But just as I was starting to sketch the pictures I wanted to take in my notebook, I came to the realisation that this was just the easy way out (after all, I have been doing traditional street photography almost daily for a long while) and started to feel the urge to try a different approach.
After looking a video of Hiroshi Sugimoto talking about his seascape series (1), I found interesting the idea that he considered this series like a “time machine trip to go back to very ancient memories of our culture” (2) because he felt that the first men, when standing on the edge of a cliff and looking at the sea for the first time, would probably have seen something similar to his seascapes, devoid of any human intervention. Trying to translate this idea into a photographic series, and on the premise that what I have most at hand is a city (London), I decided to base this assignment on the concept of human intervention without human presence: to portray the city: its buildings, parks, cars and streets, all evidencing humanity, but without any person being visible in the frame.
The idea behind this is, like in Sugimoto’s seascapes, to translate us to a different era where cities have just been abandoned and the viewer is clueless as to what is going own. Sugimoto, in his website mentions that every time he sees the sea he feels “a calming sense of security” (2), but my intention with this series was to instil insecurity into the viewer by extracting from the images something they were expecting to be there, so that they may question what they see and doubt if what they are seeing is really what the photographer is presenting: is the landscape really devoid of people or are they hidden somewhere, either by the structures of by the choice of frame? This draws from the early work of Keith Arnatt, including his series on Self Burial (1969) and Invisible Hole Revealed by the Shadow of the Artist (1968), which tries to question the veracity of photography as a medium.
(1) Krief, J.-P. (2000) Contacts vol 2: Hiroshi Sugimoto. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcbEgEv2kUw (Accessed: 29 November 2016). Posted in YouTube by Ted Tezeu