Tuesday, April 12, 2016

#14 : UNDERPASS WITH ELEPHANTS, 2015 (Lean Back, Your Life is On Track)

The transformative power of context. What do I mean? Read on....

I took the good but unremarkable photo of an elephant mother and her calves a few years ago, but didn’t think it special enough to release. But when revisiting it for Inherit the Dust, I realised how much more emotional and impactful it could be in its new incarnation. Placing the photo as a life-size panel at life size in this setting, the elephants look trapped between the monumental concrete pillars, uncertain of where to turn. The elephants also appear to be, for me at least, connected to the humans to the right of them.

When I chose this location, I never expected that these people would also be part of the photograph. They are all homeless, even the mothers with very young children and babies, who sleep beneath this underpass encircled by a central Nairobi roundabout.

It’s hard to see clearly from this tiny image online, but most of those boys, some as young as 6 or 7 years old, were high on glue from the bottles hanging from their faces.

The poisoned icing on the cake in relation to the homeless people is the cruelly juxtaposed billboard beyond, featuring a well-to-do middle class African man leaning back in a chair in his garden, with the tag line beneath: Lean Back, Your Life is On Track.

My plan had always been that, throughout the series, the animals in the panels would effectively be ghosts in the landscape. With these animals killed or driven from their habitat, the people now living within these landscapes would be oblivious to the presence of the animals that used to live there.

However,  in the final photo of the series, I wanted just one person, a child, to see the animals in the panel whilst all around, no-one else did.

But I never for a second imagined that this tiny boy on the right would wander into frame, fascinated by these giant elephants, and touch them with what appears to be a stick held in his hand. 

I would like to think that the image of babies here being the only ones to see the panels avoids the dangerous trap of easy sentimentality. My reason for it being babies is this -  I think we are all born with a instinctual connection to nature, and as we grow up, many of us lose that connection, influenced, seduced and distracted by societal pressure, teen pressure, etc. Hopefully most of us will find our way back, but many will not.

Technical :

Shot on medium format black and white film with a Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, the final panoramic image is constructed of several negatives to capture the wide field of vision, which were pieced together in photoshop.
The photo is published in the book, INHERIT THE DUST.
The reproduction in the book is 13x27 inches (32cm x 67cm). The book is $40 on Amazon at http://goo.gl/qB06yW.
Signed copies are available at http://goo.gl/uYGEsp at photoeye for $65.
I would urge you to please buy the giant book, as these website images cannot begin to capture everything going on in the photos (the print at its best size is 120 inches / 300 cm long.)