Oblivion

Oblivion

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Oblivion takes its cue from the text of the same name by the French anthropologist Marc Augé. He writes: “We must forget in order to remain present, forget in order not to die, forget in order to remain faithful. […] Oblivion is the life force of memory and remembrance its product.”

This project takes Augé’s consideration of the role of oblivion in our forming of memories and applies it to a familiar form of photo essay – the road trip. Since the first portable cameras, photographers have delighted in travelling through landscapes, searching for pictures that catch the eye and interpreting the flow of images with varying degrees of narrative intention. In all such projects, however, oblivion is the driving force: it’s present in the images that are not selected, what is omitted from the frame, what is not seen and ignored. It’s present in the very fact that you, the viewer, were not there when the photograph was taken.

Oblivion consists of panoramic photographs shot in 2015 in the desert territories of the south-west USA – Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah – a landscape familiar from numerous films and photo monologues. Like all of these, it’s a documentation of sights seen on the road, imbued with an arbitrary quality: if one had looked out of one car window rather than the other, the results might have been different, but the destination would have been the same. The fragments seen in the images are traces of lives already lived in the landscape. Through the process of oblivion, their stories become perceptible by becoming (almost) forgotten. They are memories that are created by that which is omitted.

The American south west lends itself well to both road trips and a more literal sense of oblivion. The US road system might have been motivated by myths of forward movement and freedom, but away from major urban centres it resembles a random joining of scattered dots like a network of capillaries whose health determines which tissues live and die. Ruination is everywhere in the deserts of the south west – from buildings returning to dust to entire landscapes wrecked in the names of industry and leisure. At a time when the driving force behind American civilisation seems to be turning from fantasies of perpetual progress to the rumbling of Armageddon, this oblivion might soon transcend the roadkill, car crashes, nuclear weapons, environmental destruction and meteor strikes depicted in these photographs.

A self-published book entitled Oblivion (2018), containing a selection of pictures from the series, is available here.