Surfaces and Strategies, Coursework - Introduction / Strategies of Looking

In the Surfaces and Strategies module, I plan to continue developing my current project which I have been working on over the previous two modules. Witness Marks, is an in-depth photographic exploration of rural communities in Central Oregon. The original impetus for this series was to photograph the town of Antelope, a secluded, unincorporated community located in the Oregon high desert. Today, Antelope consists of mostly derelict, uninhabitable buildings, and has a population of less than fifty, however, in the 1980’s it became the center of national attention when it was overrun with an influx of residents from a nearby cult commune. As the project has progressed, I have begun to photograph many other remote towns in this part of Oregon, each with their own unique and unusual histories to share. Whilst uncovering the past, I have become equally captivated by those who continue to reside in these areas today. With their declining populations and limited resources, I am intrigued by those who continue to live in these small, isolated towns.

The working title for this project, Witness Marks, refers to a term used in carpentry and construction. It describes a notch, groove or scratch which indicates where a fixture has previously been, leaving an indentation which can be used as a guide for future assembly. As I visit the remnants of once thriving towns, I too search for marks which remain upon the landscapes and communities to piece together stories from their past. 

As I move forward with this work, I hope to pursue avenues other than traditional documentary style imagery to investigate my areas of interest, so I was interested in this week’s focus on Rephotography, and Repeat Photography. I enjoyed seeing the multitude of approaches that artists have used to revisit the past through photography, and have been considering ways that I could integrate similar methods into my own practice. In response to this week’s activity brief, I decided to return to a site that I had previous visited and photographed. Around 4 months ago, I took photos of an abandoned property, nearby which, I later found a discarded family album (see more about this trip here). Since shooting at this location, I had wondered if the images within the album had been taken at that particular house, and if they had been, wondered if any of the rooms shown in the snapshots would be recognizable today.

Upon revisiting the house and comparing the vacated rooms with those depicted within the found album, it became clear that these photos were not actually taken there. This was disappointing, but I decided to photograph areas within and around the house that could potentially resemble scenes from the photo album. I hoped that I would still be able experiment with some of the methods we had been shown in this week’s lectures. I attempted to digitally combine some of the photographs from the found album with my own shots of the house today, but the resulting images were not successful. This is not in a style I would ever be likely to use myself, and perhaps due to the frequency of such images being created and shared, I found them to be quite cliched, the effect too heavy handed. Aligning two photos side by side was more successful, and if I were to find a location that truly depicted a property which had fallen into such a state of disrepair, I believe that this would be a preferable approach to take.

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