Animate Desolations is an attempt to begin to unpack the ways in which photography is deployed to frame the world in specific ways and to specific ends. Taking into consideration that an image is never solely a factual document divorced from ideology or narrative, here I turn my lens toward the edge of visibility: how identity is constructed and shaped within contested geographies, the epistemological understanding of natural systems and the functionality of the word's parts, and the ways in which dominant forms of being inherently lead to the obfuscation and delegitimization of others that cannot be measured using a rubric of constructed objectivity.
“Animate Desolations” is of course, an oxymoron. Living image of the dead thing? No. The photographic subject can both alive and dead simultaneously – it all depends on the code by which our biological systems function in order to formulate our understanding of reality, the way we orient ourselves in the world. For example, we may look at something as seemingly simple as an image of a tree. A person from a white, urbanized background may look at this tree and say, “that’s a Douglas Fir.” Their engagement with this species of tree is likely recreational or aesthetic – it’s out there, it’s in the wilderness. There is an understanding that trees collectively consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, but most importantly to note is, the tree is a thing, an it, an object, inanimate. In indigenous cultures, this is not the case at all – the tree is animate, its own sovereign being, and thus we are not entitled to it. It may not be cognizant in the way that we understand the word, but it is capable of communicating with other trees via biochemical processes, and it reacts to different stimuli in specific ways (this is the subject of another ongoing project of mine). The image doesn’t change. It both cases it is an image of a tree, but its' reading changes according to the visual codes of those who are looking. Unthinking in dead in one image, alive in the other.
It is useful to consider Carrie Mae Weems’ “From Here I Saw What Happened, and I Cried” –The series collects found-images (daguerreotypes) originally intended to support a theory of poly-genesis – that certain characteristics were specific to black people and slaves – to distance a white viewer from these others. Race reduced to typology, constructed for a white lens. This same process was applied to Indigenous peoples: typified by the lens– much alike their landscape – as wild, primitive, savage, and in the way of western progress, to be conquered. Where one (indigenous) has no wish to convert the animate land into a desolate ruin, the other (colonial) sees immense benefit in turning the desolate wilderness “animate” – by converting it into capital - and as such, images of the landscape have been mobilized to support the objectification of the natural world with of course no room to tolerate any alternative way of relating to the land that is fundamentally the opposite of the latter. Indeed, in Canada, Indigenous peoples have continued to be viewed as in the way of progress - our very continued presence and rights and titles to the land are a major wrench in the side of the extractive economy. This is what Thomas King means when he speaks of the "Inconvenient Indian."This is the history of the colonization of Canada, and the continuing process of cultural and biological overlap results in a continuous struggle in which we are all engaged within.