picture: Colin Pantall - Where have all the Golfers Gone?
The Fifth Flyover was about how empty beds, empty buildings, barren flyovers and sparsely vegetated fields can be overused. This is especially true when all the empties come together in one body. Everything is empty; the streets, the parks, the shops, the houses, as if nobody lived there, as if the whole town or village or country had been denuded of people in some kind of Dawn of the Dead zombie flick.
Where have all the people gone? They can't all be in the Mall, because if there are pictures of the Mall, that'll be empty too, and they're not under the electricity pylons because there's never anyone there. Either the photographer has a nasty smell about him or the absence of people is very deliberate. Most of the time it's the latter. Unpopulated landscapes become a synonym for a visual fascism, a way of seeing that makes people invisible and removes them from the interplay of the environmental, social and economic equations that make a place what it is.
Why is this? It used to be that people would pick up a camera to overcome their shyness, to give them an excuse to talk to girls or boys, to engage with the outside world. Marc Riboud used to be shy and but he started snapping people and was transformed into a maker of iconic images. Alec Soth used to be a nervous wreck who could barely look anybody in the eye, but give him a large format about and he had everybody getting their kit off in no time - himself included.
Now it seems that picking up a camera is an excuse, not to engage with, but to retreat from the world. We show the lived in environment but without the living, we show the built environment without the builders, the houses without the inhabitants, the roads without the cars and so on all the way down the line; we show a world in which life has been exterminated, as though it's been hit by a photographic neutron bomb.
What is the source of this anthrophobia? Why are so many photographers so scared of photographing people? Are we such a bunch of shrinking violets that we flinch whenever a human enters the viewfinder? Do we find the notion of digital or chemical interaction with human form so repellent that we would rather photograph a world of interiors and peeling paint? Has our lack of social skills and general dysfunction reached the nadir where we would rather lock ourselves in the cellar than be mocked and abused by the outside world.
Or could there be another reaon? Could it be that photographing empty things is easy, and photographing people is hard. Houses don't move, empty beds stay still, they don't jump up and down, pout or smile inappropriately. Flyovers don't tell people where to go, suburban houses don't stare menacingly however many pictures you take. You don't even have to talk to them, they stay in the same pose, unchanging, unmoving wonders of emptiness.
So it's laziness that makes us do this, a collective case of boneheaded idleness reinforced by corner-cutting professors and copycat curators. We can rationalise it away however we like, but we all know it's true - we should try and get out more and meet some people.
The sarcasm of these How not to posts is killing me. So is the cynicism. I'm on a rollercoaster of doom with this series. There is no hope! But alas, I was daft enough to get on and now I can't get off, so the sarcasm and cynicism will have to continue for a few more months before I can return to my rightful place and lighter things like Origami Cats.