All photographs are an expression of absence, wrote John Berger in his 1975 book, The Seventh Man, which surely makes photography the saddest of all art forms. I’ve been thinking on this recently, particularly as I have been making a series of images which have a very literal absence; the absence of human life. This is unusual for me, because I’ve always been attracted to photographing people, but I do enjoy the internal and external silence which comes when being in an empty space and considering exactly what should and exactly what should not be seen through the viewfinder.
So my recent images feature an absence of people, and that is what can be seen. But they are also representations of absences within me. I am drawn to these places of beauty because I know they have deep meaning for many people in my local community. I have no connection to this land, I am without roots in this here, and it is this fundamental absence which is with me when I am making these images. Will the desire to fully belong to a place every be fulfilled here? Or am I only in another place like all the places before. A first generation son of Rugby in England. A teacher in China for three years. A father and a husband in Otaki.
But there are benefits for this nameless longing, or at least I believe this to be true, and they are found in the images I make, or at least in the process of making the images. Photographing my own internal absence and an external absence in a beautiful landscape to me contains duende, the beautiful Portuguese word which roughly means to have soul. The songwriter Nick Cave described it as an “eerie and inexplicable sadness which lives in certain works of art.”
Do my images contain duende? They certainly chase it, even if they don’t. And perhaps that’s enough, for if the picture I want is always just out of reach, then I’ll always keep hunting it.