Capitalism as a Bearer of the Uncanny: An Interview with Michael Ashkin

By Eugenie Shinkle on April 28, 2016

‘Our subjectivities are composites largely formed by invasive, jealous, and conflicting forces originating in our shared economic and ideological space. And as unstable and contradictory as these forces are, so, too, are our subjectivities, such that we live alienated both from ourselves and from our surroundings. This alienation is the gap in which I work.’

Michael Ashkin works across a range of media – painting, photography, sculpture, video, and text. Uniting these diverse practices is a conceptual focus on the way that notions of space and place, landscape and self, are shaped by wider political and economic forces. In 2014, Ashkin’s Long Branch was published by A-Jump Books. Long Branch combines photographs and text in a chilling account of the destruction of a working-class oceanfront community in New Jersey, purchased through eminent domain and replaced by luxury condominiums. Though Ashkin’s photographs appear, superficially, to align themselves with a ‘new topographic’ sensibility, they deliberately challenge the formal and affective coolness that is typically associated with this approach. Contained precariously within the photographic frame, Ashkin’s images of Long Branch evoke a place suspended between the past and the future, and pervaded by a powerful sense of unease. Our conversation explored these ideas of fear and haunting as an effect of the violent legacies contained within the landscape, and as a function of the technologies that we use to represent it.

Eugenie Shinkle of ASX with Michael Ashkin, April 2016

ES: I’d like to begin by talking about the way that photography fits in with the rest of your practice.

MA: The first work I made was in photography: black and white 35mm in the early 1980s. At the time I had a dismal job on Wall Street, and I only shot in my spare time. Then I left to do an MFA in painting and after that made sculptural models of landscapes that I exhibited through the 1990s. These were strongly influenced by romantic and abstract painting as well as landscape and aerial photography, and they dealt with the ideology and longings embedded in western perspectival systems. The models depicted industrially ravaged wastelands typically bisected by some sort of axis in the form of a road or pipeline or string of pylons, and the early ones often involved a human figure looking toward an imagined vanishing point. But because they were sculptures, you could walk around them and view them from the perspective of, say, Caspar David Friedrich, i.e., looking from behind the figure toward the vanishing point, or you could circle around and confront the figure from the horizon. At first, I attached short texts to the sculptures indicating the residue of romantic yearning mixed with anxiety or paranoia:

Afternoons he would watch the cumulus, white and tall along the horizon.
Far above — the faint drone of airplanes headed elsewhere.
Even out here, signs of trespassers.
Inland, birds drifted in slow, silent circles.
From far off, the muffled sound of detonations.

These texts allowed me to engage aspects of the landscape that were either invisible or, if they were visible, registered an intensified focus on the part of an imagined subject. So much of the subsequent sculptural, video, installation, and textual work has had to do with this combination of shifting visible and invisible perspectives as well as the limitations of sight and knowledge based on distance, ideology, or the obliterations of history. In about 2000 I began to integrate the spatial ideas from my sculptural work back into photography, thinking of photography as an extension of sculpture. And in 2009 when I was asked to give a talk in Vienna about my photography, I experimentally reversed the terms: rather than define my photography as sculpture, I defined my sculpture as photography. I may not have fully convinced anyone or even myself, but the attempt provided the opportunity to better understand how photography registers, contends with, and is informed by all the same spatial (and temporal) traumas we find reflected in sculpture, painting, and literature over the past century and a half. This idea of spatial trauma is a shared objective condition, but it also manifests itself subjectively, and as an artist I find this space between the objective and subjective the source of the most worthwhile questions.

LB_018_rgb web

 @ Michael Ashkin

“In my opinion, the devastating confusion that capitalism wreaks upon the coherence of memory and history renders almost all imagery, and in particular, photography, as bearer of the uncanny.”

ES: As I understand it, much of your work relates to a cluster of common themes – first, the way that photography relates to spatial organisation, the body, and knowledge; second, the political and economic nature of entropy, and third, the technological and economic forces and networks (broadly speaking, those of ‘globalisation’) that shape contemporary landscape. Is this a fair assessment of your practice?

MA: Yes, Eugenie. Absolutely. However, there is also the more difficult question of how I negotiate the powerful, but rather obscure, subjective need to take up specific subject matter in a certain way. In other words, overriding everything is how I understand and shift my subjectivity and the work it produces. By this I mean the moral necessity of extracting myself, no matter how tenuously, from the accumulating layers of spatial paranoia that define me. I sense that our subjectivities are composites largely formed by invasive, jealous, and conflicting forces originating in our shared economic and ideological space. And as unstable and contradictory as these forces are, so, too, are our subjectivities, such that we live alienated both from ourselves and from our surroundings. This alienation is the gap in which I work.

ES: The practice that you’ve just described has a lot in common with recent thinking in cultural geography. Geographer John Wylie has described landscape as a tension between subject and object: ‘The whole value of the concept of landscape … is the precise manner in which it demands that we produce accounts which dapple between interiority and exteriority, perception and materiality.’ This seems to me to be quite a useful way of thinking through the relationship between the various aspects of your practice.

MA: I agree with Wylie’s assertion that the “value of the concept of landscape” lies in producing contradictions. He describes the landscape in terms of absence and the non-coincidence between the self and the world; rather than understanding the relationship of the subject to his/her surroundings in terms of presence and embodiment, he sees it in terms of absence, distance, loss, and haunting. He quotes Derrida: “between my world and every other world there is initially the space and time of an infinite difference, of an interruption incommensurable with all the attempts at passage, of bridge, of isthmus, of communication, of translation, of trope, and of transfer which the desire for a world . . . will attempt to pose, to impose, to stabilize.” But, Wylie says, the self yearns for this unobtainable coincidence. And for him this yearning can be thought of in terms of love, and again quoting Derrida: “to surrender to the other, and this is impossible, would amount to giving oneself over in going toward the other, to coming towards the other but without crossing the threshold, and to respecting, to loving even the invisibility that keeps the other inaccessible.”

This, too, is my experience. The landscape and its photographic translation both exhibit a haunting and an impossible presence I reach toward (while acknowledging the incommensurability of the means with the goal). Photography is a concentrated and specifically mediated way of reaching toward the landscape, but I question whether it allows us to get any closer. Perhaps a photograph is just a song we sing to it. And, though I do feel this love, the moment-to-moment experience of immersion and exclusion indicates a very troubled love. What I see saddens and enrages me more often than not. And whether I react to the landscape or some violent accretion imposed upon it is another question (whether I hate or love it in its damaged form). Additionally, I am sure that I both a recipient and agent of this violence. Troubling narcissistic and sado/masochistic qualities are certainly involved.

It occurs to me that I might relate a recent incident that illustrates many of the tensions you describe in terms of “interiority and exteriority, perception and materiality” as well as all the ambiguities I mentioned.

This fall, east of San Diego, I photographed a rubble-strewn lot close to the railroad tracks. Nearby were some small houses and a car dealership, and, in the distance were the mountains above which a thunderstorm was developing. As I photographed these varied and juxtaposed elements, I heard cars pass by, sensed occasional passersby, checked my unlocked car, so that even while shooting I remained aware of my surroundings. I generally feel uneasy shooting because I know that cameras and the odd movements of photographers provoke suspicion, and because I am often trespassing (even in a vacant lot). Here, I sensed people in a nearby yard and made sure not to point the camera toward them. I concentrated on the ground wondering why some of the rubble was covered with a tarp and whether the piles of brush signalled impending development. The viewfinder revealed pictures immediately compelling as well as others less promising but perhaps surprising. I took variations of all shots. Sometimes the first and the last were nearly identical but felt very different in the taking. Some were visual clichés and others had no chance of working. What was I really looking for? I was aware of the smell of dust, the increasing wind, and the darkening clouds. A large pickup truck stopped on the street, perhaps watching me. I finished my shoot pretending not to notice the truck. I returned to the car, taking some parting shots of the auto parts store. Driving off, the pickup followed me and, because I did not want a full-on chase, I let it pull up beside me. A man and a woman asked me angrily what I was photographing. I told them that I had not photographed them, that I do not photograph people, that I am an artist photographing the urban landscape. They relaxed and, though likely not convinced, drove off.

Later, looking at the pictures, I realized the limits of what I knew: the legacy of the land, the fears of the couple, the implied threat of the camera, the ethics and justifiability of my photography, my underlying unease, the driving urge to photograph nonetheless.

Looking now at the photos themselves I notice that each gives off a very different sense of place depending, sometimes, on only the slightest framing differences. For example, why does the tip of that telephone pole, when it touches the top of the frame, create a satisfying, but slightly unbalanced, sense of place while the next and nearly identical one fails? What does it mean for a photograph to fail: is it any less true? What is the nature of this “sense of place,” and who has access to it? Why does looking at an image for five seconds produce interest, but for five minutes produce oddness? Why, after all this, do I feel an affinity for the “place,” when the place – so different now than during the fraught experience – exists only as several edited images, some more and some less successful? And finally, because I am interested in the notion of truth, how did the above experience, so replete with absence, void, and unknowability bring me closer to it? In other words, what kind of truth can be obtained from any experience in the landscape?

LB_021_rgb web

@ Michael Ashkin

“Yes, the sense of haunting is always experienced on a subjective level. It is impossible to attribute exactly what brings on this feeling in a particular case, though there are particular tropes and aesthetic combinations that we have come to culturally recognize as haunting – otherwise, David Lynch could not construct films that we collectively experience.”

ES: Your anecdote draws out yet another aspect of the tension that landscape comprises, and that is the incommensurability of the experience in/of particular places with the images that we go on to make of them. I think the commitment to a critical practice that seeks to move away from landscape as visual spectacle or ‘pictures of nature’ necessarily involves a process of questioning one’s attraction to certain places – attractions that don’t always reveal themselves through the linguistic frameworks that we typically impose upon photographs by way of interpretation. This tension between the ostensible truth of the landscape image and the less rational processes (such as the fear and unease that you describe) that motivates its making, is something that photographic discourse hasn’t really got to grips with yet. It’s also something that’s very present in Long Branch. I’ve often thought that what attracts me to certain landscape photographs is this inherent oddness that can’t be accounted for in a ‘reading’ of the image, but that does, perhaps emerge in a more extended encounter.

MA: Yes, the sense of haunting is always experienced on a subjective level. It is impossible to attribute exactly what brings on this feeling in a particular case, though there are particular tropes and aesthetic combinations that we have come to culturally recognize as haunting – otherwise, David Lynch could not construct films that we collectively experience. It is also important to note that the uncanny came into being as an aesthetic category under concrete material and historical circumstances; namely, the alienation accompanying modernity and the advent of the metropolis. The uncanny is really the result of our estrangement from the world due to many conditions such as rent, labor, exile, exchange value, and a technology that distances us from nature. But I imagine it also a result of our repressed collective guilt for the conditions of injustice in the broadest sense. Because at this point, within the spectacular and abstracted economy, every sign, every word, and every object conceal indescribable and horrific histories. In the modern world, where every object is a product of many unseen relations and acts of previous violence or exploitation, the question becomes how that context expresses itself aesthetically. I wonder if the haunting we experience is something that is really connected to these objects or if we, through our own troubled consciences, have developed a language of haunting that allows us to unburden ourselves. I suspect the latter, but I can’t say I embark on such an analysis while photographing. It is true that there are clichés of uncanny expression, and we all recognize them immediately. For example, a certain type of architectural window configuration will always provoke such a response, especially if it suggests a face. And even when I recognize these clichés, I sometimes photograph them, simply because they can be so compelling (and cathartic!). But, honestly, I much prefer to discover something that provokes the feeling without my understanding its grammar, though it could be that I am unconsciously remembering some previous aesthetic expression of haunting without my realizing it (in other words, the picture of a forgotten picture).

The truth is that I like walking in the world and noticing the responses I have to objects and the relationships between them, and also the way they appear and are transformed in a photograph depending how it is processed. For example, looking at the world in color but knowing that it will produce an uncanny effect when printed in black and white after adjustment for contrast and exposure. This means that the uncanny is subject to translation through mediations of vision and technology. It is akin to writing a haunting fictional story using literary and aesthetic conventions, but knowing that the horror underlying the entire construct must be absolutely real.

I remember trying to identify and photograph what in Long Branch felt so strange the first day I took pictures there. Fortunately, I did not over-analyse the feeling, but rather pointed the camera in a general direction promising myself to study the results afterwards. From that, I developed the habit of shooting with enough coverage to allow later cropping. Of course, by the time I got the pictures out of the darkroom so much time had passed it’s hard to say whether I was narrowing in on the original experience or creating a new one.

What needs to be said about the “language” of the uncanny is that if it can be deciphered and grammaticized, it is no longer uncanny. It must always elude the imposition of logic and language. If it can be reproduced through logical construction, it then becomes a parody of itself (though I imagine that the parodic uncanny can still contain sublimated uncanniness (or uncanny uncanniness!)). Of course, our language, as an autonomous force in the world, makes every attempt to capture it (as even our discussion proves). In this connection, I wonder about that strangeness that sets in with the prolonged viewing of some banal photographs you and I have just agreed happens at times. Is this the true uncanny oozing around our language? And when the language arrives to try and understand it, does its truth content dissipate and again die? This would be akin to the way Proust describes the intellectualization that domesticates and indeed kills the involuntary memory within moments of its occurrence. This would indicate that if the uncanny represents a moment of truth, then certain important truths are only accessible before or outside our ability to rationalize or speak them. This would indicate that truth might therefore only exist as a general “orientation in the direction of” or “love in the direction of” the vanishing point of the object.

ES: In relation to the idea of haunting and the uncanny, I’m very interested in the way that the anteriority of history is embodied twice over in your images of Long Branch. Most obviously of course in the images of existing buildings under demolition. But also – and perhaps more forcefully – in the images of the new development.

This idea of the image already announcing absence is something that I felt with incredible force the first time I saw Lewis Baltz’s images of Park City. He photographed the place in a way that refused even the possibility of the ‘this has been’ – like something stillborn. It’s true that everything that we build has its own destiny as ruin already incorporated into it. But there are some places – Long Branch is one of them – that seem to consist of nothing but this anteriority. The haunting is part of their fabric from the moment they are conceived, and it goes beyond figurative devices, beyond the mimetic capability of the photograph, and, as you remark, beyond language itself. Perhaps it’s because you’re particularly attuned to the sort of financial violence and exploitation that makes these sort of developments possible in the first place.

LB_043_rgb web

@ Michael Ashkin

“Photography is merely a particular technological freezing of fleeting events occurring across all imagery, language, and history. Photography as we know it is the technical realization of a primordial photography (mimetic imaging) that has always been with us.”

MA: I like how you talk about anteriority of history embodied twice over in the case of the Long Branch photos. It seems to me that between the destruction of the older housing and the manifestly temporary nature of the new construction, the occurrence of ruin can be projected both backward and forward in time. And that the state of ruin therefore inhabits all possibility of structure; perhaps all structure can be said already to be in a state of ruin. I also like that there exists an analogy between the state of the architecture and the state of the photograph. In the case of Long Branch this has emerged more clearly for me now that the photographs are over ten years old.

I like how in Words of Light Eduardo Cadava asserts photography’s figurative existence since the dual utterance of “let there be light” (dual because the original must be duplicated to be remembered). Photography is merely a particular technological freezing of fleeting events occurring across all imagery, language, and history. Photography as we know it is the technical realization of a primordial photography (mimetic imaging) that has always been with us. I think we know that the other mediated forms of visualization (language, body memory, other visual associations) are activated when looking at a photograph. We know that on a neurological level, the visual cortex builds the image it wants to see based on accumulated experience. Walter Benjamin asserts that on some level all language is onomatopoeic, and he imagines that apparently non-onomatopoeic language retains a sort of non-sensuous mimetic quality: when you hear any language, an unrecognized image or experience stalks within it. So I am interested in the way photographs are inhabited by a lineage of experience stretching back beyond our cognition, into the ruins of our collective past. I find myself most interested in pictures that remind me of something outside themselves, familiar but still unidentifiable. And, to avoid being purely poetic, I am interested how the conditions of modern life, through the rapid cycles of destruction and transformation, lead to the conditions whereby incoherent recollections are regularly sparked. I recognize that the entropy of our memory, like that of our physical world, is governed by the forces of power and the economy as much as by the laws of nature. In my opinion, the devastating confusion that capitalism wreaks upon the coherence of memory and history renders almost all imagery, and in particular, photography, as bearer of the uncanny.

To further pursue this line of thought, let me mention the Blaisdell article on Baltz you sent to me. I was impressed that he noticed the correspondence between the formal abstract qualities of the New Industrial Parks and the technologically produced photograph: the thinness of both. In one incredible pair of sentences he says: “Jammed in mind like a slide in a projector, the photograph declares its slippage from the on-site reality of this world of bldgs. At such a juncture as this Baltz exposes an ontological condition of his medium, and the photograph, like the original rectangle of the foundation, translates itself parallel to itself, object matter metamorphosed into subject matter (against the world of the angle).” Wonderful, and I would also stress that the camera is a specific historical product, that the camera represents the world that creates it, a particular rationalization of capture. The world that creates the camera chooses to be seen through the camera; it is a solipsistic reflection of itself, a self-confirmation, and ultimately an obsessive utopian attempt to capture itself within a larger enclosed system. This solipsistic world is an apparatus and is an all-encompassing language that speaks us. It implicates our viewing, speaking, thinking, gesturing, our bodies and the environment with which we have surrounded ourselves. We can think about this apparatus in the context of Heidegger’s ideas about technology. But my question is whether there are still intimations that reach us from beyond the apparatus. I think that there are, and that they would arrive only from the ruins of our current thinking: the ruins of the past and the future triangulated into the present. But I think that these intimations, however real, cannot be described or understood through our language as it is.

ES: I’ve been reading Anthony Vilder’s Warped Space, in which he discusses the subject as ‘caught in spatial systems beyond its control’, and the representational strategies that artists use to resist or transform such hegemonic spatial systems. In the case of Long Branch, you’ve used a strategy of destabilisation that deploys the camera not as a way of rationalising space, but as a way of tearing it apart by fragmenting individual buildings as well as the entire neighbourhood itself – nothing is ever given to us entire. And those fragments that are given to us, in the form of individual images, don’t cohere into an identifiable place, topography, or history. It seems to me that there’s a clear relationship here to something that I’ve been pondering in the work of a couple of other photographers – Paul Gaffney and Jo Ractliffe – and the way their photography incorporates certain intimations – let’s call them affects – that make their way into the work, as you remark, from beyond the apparatus. What I’m trying to articulate here has to do with the way that spatial anxiety or fear is embedded or embodied as a constitutive part of our experience of an image – rather than simply something we project onto it.

MA: I am interested in the way that spatial (or temporal) fear and anxiety you suggest might be constitutive of our experience of the image and might instigate a subversion of the photographic apparatus. Is it possible that the anxiety is exacerbated by the machinic quality of the camera? By this I mean that the camera, because it obeys only mechanical laws, will likely not produce the image one yearns for. The perspectival logic of the camera was created to reinforce (and prevent our escape from) these oppressive spatial systems Vidler refers to (and these systems now include the screens and networks through which most images pass). But on the other hand, I think that all photographs yield some “excess” beyond machinic reproduction; this can happen when we look at any photo long enough. Perhaps the fear of what lurks in that “excess” is known by all of us on some deep level: the ability of photographs to suggest truths we cannot describe. And generally speaking these truths relate to death and obliteration and the inevitably unjust methods of our representational systems.

I would imagine, too, that the rapid technological development of photography only makes worse the anxiety we are mentioning. Walter Benjamin in his “Little History of Photography” talks about how, in the early days of photography, many photographers and viewers understood that the camera was not an adequate objective descriptor of the world both because of the long exposure times and the amount of information remaining deep in shadow. In other words, the technical limitations highlighted the immense void between representation and reality. But, over time, the overcoming of these technical limitations came to obscure this void to the point that today the average viewer looks at a photograph and thinks: this is what was. It is this now pervasive common-sense understanding of photography that every photographer must grapple with. And oddly, despite all the spatial investigations of the avant-garde and science in the past century-and-a-half, the reflexive and naïve assumption of truthful spatial representation on the part of the photograph seems only to have grown stronger.

This calls to mind something I read in Massimo Scolari’s Oblique Drawing about the Chinese response to attempts by Jesuit priests to convince them of the value and realism of single-point perspective in the 16th-18th centuries. The Chinese, apparently, reacted with wonder to the paintings brought to them from the West, but, though they admired them for their technical virtuosity, responded that they depicted the world through the eyes of a child. Single-point perspective revealed only the world one could see, not the world that one could think. Channelling this observation, the insistence that representation only include optical reproduction from a single point, affected by the limitations of light, atmosphere, and distance, thereby excluding everything one knew was otherwise invisibly present or contingent could, perhaps, induce anxiety. If so, then the subsequent technical reproduction and fixing of that limited and thought-excluding perspective through a photograph could restrict one’s ability to locate oneself not only in a world constructed upon individual experience and knowledge, but also upon shared cultural or cosmological values. Scolari relates that some of the perspectival paintings brought from the Europe as gifts were immediately locked away out of sight. A photograph’s implicit threat to any non-mimetic understanding is perhaps detectable in our own daily experience when we protest that we do not recognize ourselves in a picture just taken of us. In its brutal representational simplicity, any photograph threatens the potential destruction of everything we have just thought or experienced.

In the example of Long Branch, I found that my first photographs reflected narratives of space and objects that I did not trust. And, yes, these first photos provoked anxiety even while I recognized that they held promise. But even after I started using various effects (de-centering, cropping, emphasizing the ground between nameable objects, etc.), I remained insecure about their subjective and objective truth-value. I had used somewhat similar methods in my Meadowlands grid and I remember the reception they received from one photo critic. She told me that I had no idea how to compose a photo, that they were merely snapshots, that I should study the Bechers. How could I tell her about the perfectly “composed” shots I had not included because they reproduced only what I knew? For me, the pictures I included were successful because they were somehow unsatisfying, askew, choreographed into a dizzying grid, and cumulatively achieving the infinite claustrophobic space I recognized as true. For me they functioned as a photographic application of situationist psychogeography, but how can one reliably talk about that? These affective methods (in addition to what is possible in sequencing and gridding) attempted to negate the récit by disrupting the mappable spatial and temporal coordinates of the original pictures. But I should mention that these affective methods I or anyone else use are prone to produce their own set of anxieties because they are just as easily identifiable as additional technical gestures built into the larger image-producing apparatus.

LB_071_rgb web

@Michael Ashkin

“For me the question is not so much how to represent the effects or the hidden structures of global capitalism (to the degree that is even possible), but to glance through them. There is no way out of global capitalism using its own language.”

ES: It’s become a commonplace to list photographers like Andreas Gursky, Ed Burtynsky, and Thomas Struth in discussions of photography and globalisation. Lately, however, I’ve become more interested in ground-level explorations – subtler, less operatic photographs that move away from large-scale topographic imagery and towards smaller, often book-based presentations, and a looser, documentary kind of structure. Long Branch, I think, sits in this category, along with recent work by photographers like Peter Bialobrzeski, who is doing a series of projects called the ‘City Diaries’. Could you talk a bit more about the way that your work engages with issues linked to globalisation?

MA: Well, the photographs of Gursky, Burtynsky, and Struth come to mind first because they represent the effects of globalization, not just in terms of their content, but also in terms of their function as images within the economy. Their work reveals a controlled ambivalence that is made seductive as branded and highly finished products. These photographers are in fact saying: yes, the world we are portraying (and at times digitally exaggerating) might at times appear horrible, but first and foremost it is fascinating, and we will further spectacularize it through images for wide cultural distribution and exclusive fetishistic consumption. The scale and constructed seductiveness of the images reflect the hubris (of capitalism) that subsumes within itself all the ambivalences, critiques, and pangs of conscience related to the content. These photographs exist as an integral and reinforcing component of capitalist production; I cannot imagine our world without them.

But perhaps I am too harsh because certainly no art or representation escapes this trap; it is just a matter of degree, emphasis, and success. Given that capitalism is a dialectical system, immunizing itself through crises and the intellectual labor of self-critique, the production of all images and critical language merely bolsters the system they remain trapped within. Manfredo Tafuri, the architecture critic everyone loves to hate, showed that even the chaos, rage, and rebellious negation of Dada was put to the service of capitalist production after World War I and remains a mine of resources to this day. Negation is now just another cultural affect. As John Cage said of his most formless and challenging work: after listening to it several times it inevitably became music. And to take a photographic example: Ian Nairn’s intentionally aggressive and anti-aesthetic photographs of the 1950s suburbanized English landscape would now look good as a fashion shoot backdrop.

For me the question is not so much how to represent the effects or the hidden structures of global capitalism (to the degree that is even possible), but to glance through them. There is no way out of global capitalism using its own language. Whatever is beyond will be of a nature we cannot pre-imagine or describe. You mentioned Peter Bialobrzeski, whose images of nail houses in China awaiting destruction have a haunting quality (though perhaps even they could be appropriated touristically). These night-time photos record a reality as perhaps seen by a stray cat, with the few remaining humans hidden out of sight, their presence signalled only by the infrequent light in a doorway or window. Though these houses are by now bulldozed, one feels that the spirit of their reality may nonetheless have escaped and still be with us. Although my photographs look very different than his, I feel we share a certain sensibility. I do differ from him, however, in that his pictures are a structured cataloguing of locations that combine various elements. I am more interested in the idea of sequencing as walking or meandering with less purposefulness, trying to string together peripheral views. Peripheral vision seems more likely to escape direct programming, but I am wary that it creates its own vocabulary of betrayal as well. And how can I trust myself with this vocabulary, because to participate in the world as an artist I must use and, in fact, capitalize on my acquired vocabulary? Capitalism is bent on colonizing every interstitial moment and space it can identify and so every photograph (or sequencing, even) that is not formally repetitive encroaches in some way on the real. I sometimes soothe myself thinking that perhaps I am only hinting at unreachable places through their non-equivalent representations and that these unreachable places are infinite in number. Maybe the important thing is to keep the longing for some sort of outside alive. I am not sure.


Long Branch

Michael Ashkin

A-Jump Books

(All rights reserved. Text @ Eugenie Shinkle and ASX. Images @ Michael Ashkin.)

Connect to the ASX world! Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Get more articles like this
sent directly to your inbox