Photography

On Carly Steinbrunn’s ‘The Voyage of Discovery’

By Izabella Scott on September 25, 2015

Continue towards a cluster of trees forming to your left across the wide plane, which sprouts from the island’s epidermis like the strewn hairs of a moulting pelt. Notice how the silence is slashed by the hiss of moving water, a soft humming that breaks out from the undergrowth.

By Izabella Scott, ASX, September 2015

Overcast rocks scramble beneath your feet, woven bulges appearing and receding from a loom of pebbles. It is a stone tapestry that skims to sea-level behind you, sinking into flat water. You walk forward, observing to the right a billowing white coastline, and to the left, a plume of sultry forest. You observe the silence, and the rasp of your footfall is stifled, as if sounds are swallowed by porous rock. The island is a sound thief, looting the impressions left by life, its surfaces puckered with hungry apertures.

Continue towards a cluster of trees forming to your left across the wide plane, which sprouts from the island’s epidermis like the strewn hairs of a moulting pelt. Notice how the silence is slashed by the hiss of moving water, a soft humming that breaks out from the undergrowth. Watch those wiggling plaits of liquid gush past and vanish over a ridge, leaving only milk-white vapour.

You realise this landscape outstretched before you is unified by some camouflaged law, by a principle of enquiry. The views only exist when, in a point of convergence, they are brought into focus. Outside your crisp line of sight, the landscape falls away – rocks tumble in bleary cascades, saplings fray in translucent streams – a waterfall of matter, outside of vision. Without the insistence of inspection, the island might have evaporated, or simply slipped into another scale, like a world of swarming life on a glass slide, only made visible by a microscope.
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The Voyage of Discovery is a self-contained universe, a set of images that are also gateways to a journey inside of signs. As a fictional dossier, the pages pose as the report of a scientific mission set up to describe unknown worlds.

Carly Steinbrunn’s The Voyage of Discovery is a self-contained universe, a set of images that are also gateways to a journey inside of signs. As a fictional dossier, the pages pose as the report of a scientific mission set up to describe unknown worlds. It offers findings, a catalogue of the uncertain landscape, its animals and relics, and providing a set of clues that point beyond language, towards the unspeakable.

We follow a sequence of images like a spoor through a variegated terrain, one that is constructed in the moment of looking. Humans are almost absent from this landscape, leaving only traces: an embroidered shirt that conjures a ghostly human presence, or an unreadable calfskin manuscript inscribed with hooked runes. But the place pulsates with the weight of scrutiny – invisible eyes in the foliage, no doubt – and also instilled with that obstinate curiosity at the root of photography itself.

We are ravished, seduced, taken in. And yet the images also unravel themselves, bearing intentional reference to the conditions of their making, and willfully invoking photography’s own aesthetic history. We are shown a cell of sea treasure confessed on a microscope, which could very well be Blossfeldt. Animals, we notice, are inconspicuously caged, and betray the urban environments in which they are taken. But of course, while these images signify places and things, their true relevance is the relation between each part as they build up an echo system of their own. Here, a fossil of Egypt, a pyramid in dusky gold and peach rising from the sand, and it is echoed later in the sequence, as if a wheel has turned. The pyramid, resuscitated, is milk-white and modern, looming in bleached Brazilian concrete. These images hold in equipoise photography’s double appetite for fact and fabrication. The wheel spins and the mind reels.

Izabella Scott is a writer and editor based in London.

The Voyage of Discovery

Carly Steinbrunn

MACK

Carly Steinbrunn (b, 1982) is a French artist who lives and works in London. The Voyage of Discovery is her first book. She is currently developing The Astronomical Unit, in collaboration with the Société Française de Photographie in Paris, a project inspired by Jules Janssen’s journey to Japan in 1874 attempting to photograph the transit of Venus.

(All rights reserved. Text @ Izabella Scott. Images @ Carly Steinbrunn.)