These ideas will be discussed a week from today at Bearing Witness, a photography symposium convened by SFMOMA with leaders in the field of photography from Instagram, Wired, The New York Times, Magnum Photos, and Yale University.
Turning Again to the Past
HMS Challenger was a Royal Navy scientific research vessel that voyaged around the world between 1872 and 1876, charged with the mission to advance knowledge of the world’s oceans. Alongside vast sets of data that represent cornerstones within the fields of oceanography and marine biology, the crew of HMS Challenger collaboratively gathered over 500 photographs of the people and places visited. Of all its ports of call, its two-month visit to Japan in 1875 not only impressed all involved in the original expedition, but also made an impression upon this artist’s photographic practice.
In 2006/07, the locations depicted in Challenger’s photographs of Japan were identified and rephotographed using a 19th century lens with a digital camera. This experience of looking through ‘old eyes’ unfurled within my practice an approach to creating photographs based upon collection. In 2009, an online collaborative project was initiated that invited participants from around the world to similarly identify and rephotograph any Challenger photograph taken in their respective locations. This collaboration encouraged my photographic practice to look beyond the photographer’s viewpoint, initiating an approach that engaged and included the photographs of others’ within a single composition.
The works in the series presented here represent a transitional stage towards a photographic practice that can be collaborative and inclusive. Through the vehicle of rephotography, each work returns to a location in Japan first rephotographed in 2006. Gathering together the viewpoints of Jesse Lay (one of the official Challenger photographers) and contemporary moments documented by my assistant and I (employing a variety of digital and non-digital media), the resulting pictures conscientiously play with the linearity of memory. However, underpinned by the persistent topography within each location, the pictures also serve as a reminder that all moments include others and are not just collaborative in time but also across it.
Gary McLeod, March 2014
All images © Gary McLeod 2014
"Turning Again to the Past: new photographs of Japan" by Jesse Lay & Gary McLeod. As installed at Izmir University of Economics in Turkey. © Gary McLeod 2014
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"Shinto Temple, Yokohama" (with notes) by Jesse Lay & Gary McLeod. From the series "Turning Again to the Past" © Gary McLeod 2014