Nobody can forget the images of 11 September 2001 of the destruction of the World Trade Centre buildings, and this post is particularly poignant as we approach the twentieth anniversary. The images in the immediate aftermath remain resolutely in our memories and those by the American photographer Joel Meyerowitz particularly so:
His images, taken several days after the planes struck are shocking and moving in equal measure, showing the remaining jagged shards of fractured buildings destroyed by the terrorist attacks. His images were striking because they recorded absence, what was no longer there, and the vulnerability and fragility of a nation, its people and the world. In everyday life, and before 9/11, people would have passed these buildings on their way to work, tourists and visitors would marvel at their spectacle on the New York skyline and others would see them as impregnable, dominant and a sign of American might.
In a small way, I seek to reveal the hidden qualities of reeds, trees and other aspects of the natural world. Many pass by Loch Cill Chriosd and the lone silver birch every day. Few would recognise them for their fragility and vulnerability, and most would recognise the colours, patterns and beauty of the tender stems on the waters of the tiny loch. Most would not notice them as a resting place for insects and birds or their use to provide bedding for the sheep on the shores of the loch I seek to reveal and learn about these often-hidden real qualities and through this strategy crack open the essence. Photography allows me to take the images that notice the fracture and bring these known but hidden qualities to the surface.
Fracture is defined as the cracking or breaking of a hard object or material – to split or fragment – a radical dislocation. Heidegger speaks of tools as being ‘present at hand’ or ‘ready to hand’ and when the hammer breaks the real qualities of the object are revealed. When the hammer is fully functional, we focus on banging nails into walls but when the hammer breaks, we notice the wooden handle, the brittleness of the shaft that joins the head to the wooden handle and the tool that pulls out the nails we have overly-enthusiastically hammered into the wrong place. So, the ‘being’ of the object and its real qualities (hitherto withdrawn) lie in its unreadiness at hand. As Ryan (2019) explains:
. . . when we gaze on the break [of the hammer for example] the essence of the object emerges into view. (p44).
Every object has a life-cycle of tool being and fracture is a sudden dislocation in tool being. In the natural world that I seek to capture in my images, fracture is the loss of primary purpose, for example through the felling of a tree. In so doing, its beauty, its shelter and its presence in the social network of the woodland is lost. However, what comes into view is the quality of the timber, its flammability and its usefulness in lighting fires and as a raw material for furniture. These are not necessarily unknown qualities but aspects previously hidden or removed from view.
The camera as an instrument allows us to break time and reveal aspects of the real qualities of the subject not available to human cognition because we do not have the ability to freeze time. The camera allows us to see that which is not directly accessible and reveal qualities of an object rarely seen or revealed except to those that look . . .
Ryan, R. J. (2019). Intuition, Expertise and Judgement in the Assessment of Photographic Images. School of Business and the School of Art. Cheltenham, University of Gloucestershire. PhD: 492.