ceshore photography

Antediluvian Statement: English

antediluvian: (adjective) from the Latin words meaning “before” and “flood or deluge.”

 

These photographs span a time period of nearly forty years, follow the sun across three-quarters of the world, and encompass technologies only dimly imagined when the first of these images was made. What unites them across this field of time, geographic distance, and cultural difference is a sense of isolation and uncertainty, a darkness encroaching, and a wondering of what will happen next: the Antediluvian.

The poet Archibald MacLeish wrote “You Andrew Marvell” just after the Second World War. It describes the progress of the sun and shadow of night around the globe as metaphor for the rise and fall of western civilization. In the poem, the sun is directly above the United States at full noon. MacLeish concludes with the lines:

And here face downward in the sun

To feel how swift how secretly

The shadow of the night comes on.

 

A decade later the photographer Garry Winogrand wrote the following:

I look at the pictures I have done up to now, and they make me feel that who we are and what we feel and what is to become of us just doesn’t matter. Our aspirations and successes have been cheap and petty. I read the newspapers, the columnists, some books, and I look at the magazines (our press). They all deal in illusion and fantasies. I can only conclude that we have lost ourselves, and that the bomb may finish the job permanently, and it just doesn’t matter; we have not loved life. (qtd. In Papageorge 93).

Tod Papageorge, another American photographer, attempts to describe the changes in the national mood between the Viet Nam War and the Iraq Occupation War in 2007:

It’s difficult for me to identify any existential connection between the hysterical state of things back then and the narcotized country I find myself living in today, one that barely managed to rouse itself from its sleep to vote…. We truly live in Plato’s cave now in America, a reflected world of screens and monitors and second- or third-hand experience. (132).

These quotations confirm the sense of despair and denial that the United States has undergone over the past half century, and reflect that sweeping arc of shadow, swiftly and decisively crossing the United States.

As a native of New Orleans, I grew up in a surreal world. The Mardi Gras celebration there marks the last chance for Catholics to revel before beginning the pious fasting of Lent. The hedonism is a magnet for religious zealots, who stand amid the carefree, threatening them with eternal damnation. It is not unusual to see costumes that reflect a more tolerant and often humorous attitude about Christianity, such as a hippie Jesus, using his cross as an electric guitar. When most of the city was flooded in 2005, many on the far-right proclaimed it a judgment of God, a biblical flood, while the actual cause was the shoddy construction of levees, the result of collusion between corrupt politicians and greedy contractors. Similar allegations continue to surface in Japan post 3/11.

In the years following the publication of MacLeish’s poem, Japan underwent political, social and economic upheavals that within a few decades saw it dominating world markets. Yet now Japan too has lost its edge. The rewards of success created a society much like the American one described by Papageorge above, and the world turns towards China, basking in the full sun of global economic attention. This month, the New York Times published a photo-essay by Hiroyuki Ito, a photographer living in New York, who returned to Japan for his father’s funeral. He describes his sense of Japan’s mood:

The entire country felt as if it was still mourning the earthquake and tsunami of last March. There was something very sad in the air. The Japan I knew from the ‘80s was at its economic peak, full of confidence. Now that the country has been in a recession for so long, people seem to have accepted defeat. Walking alongside them felt like accompanying them on a funeral procession.

Yesterday, I went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography as a break from thinking about this exhibition. On display were works spanning more than eighty years of European photography, by masters of their craft. Examining one image of old Glasgow made by Thomas Annan, Julia said, “look at the date: the height of Empire.” Before me was a photograph made in 1868, when “the sun never set on the British Empire,” and yet this image captures only squalor and misery: crumbling buildings, an open sewer running down the middle of the lane. This was the heart of the Empire, a distant mirror of our own times, when a few have everything and the rest everything to gain. I stood and swept my gaze around the gallery. A European geography faced me—France, Great Britain, and Germany, the ‘great industrial powers of the time’ as the brochure pointed out, a time spanning the height of those powers through one world war and ending shortly after the start of the next. All and each of those epochs were ‘antediluvian,’ much like today, at the glittering end of the era of global finance capital, and what seems only darkness beyond.

I begin this series of photographs with an image made in love, and present them to you in the same spirit, ending with a child creating a picture on the sidewalks of Berlin. Art stands in the way of darkness, and here in this gallery in Tokyo, not far from where some of Japan’s most political photographers have worked, I offer you these dark images to contemplate in the hope that some light may come from them, as the writer Jeanette Winterson illustrates here:

We know that the universe is infinite, expanding and strangely complete, that it lacks nothing we need, but in spite of that knowledge, the tragic paradigm of human life is lack, loss, finality, and primitive doomsaying that has not been repealed by the technology or medical science. The arts stand in the way of this doomsaying. Art objects. The nouns become an active force not a collector’s item. Art objects. (19).

 

Christopher E. Shore, Tokyo, January 21st.

 

Works Cited:

 

Ito, Hiroyuki. “Lost and Alone Under Tokyo’s Red Rain.” Lens: Photography, Video and Visual Journalism. 17 Jan. 2012. New York Times Web. 18 Jan. 2012.

MacLeish, Archibald. “You Andrew Marvell.” The Poetry Foundation. Web. 21 Jan. 2012.

Papageorge, Tod. Core Curriculum: Writings on Photography. New York: Aperture, 2011.

Winterson, Jeanette. Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery. New York: Vintage, 1997.