Iain Harker’s series ‘The Food Front’ present a fully-formed fictional domestic landscape, set in an imagined future. His photographs are constructed scenarios, and collectively they recall the science-fiction narratives of cinema and novels, in part. He gives shape to a post-apocalyptic scenario, where the causes of the changes to the means of production are unclear. What is wholly clear, however, is that in this fantastic world, whilst industry seems to continue, agriculture has been decimated. In the photographer’s words, “I have created a world where the everyday man is forced to look back at traditional cultivation techniques in order to evolve and apply them to an urban dystopia. Harker’s contribution to the iconography of future dystopias is, however, highly unusual. Unlike the high drama of recent cinematic productions like ‘28 Days Later’ or ‘Children of Men’, or the literary models provided by Philip K Dick or JG Ballard, there are no epic or heroic elements here; no cataclysmic events; no novel technologies. There is just the day-to-day prosaic business of ensuring one’s personal stock of food in adverse circumstances, using unexpected means. Harker’s situations record ordinary, domestic, situations in which the requirements of survival have caused strange additions to our present repertoire of domestic objects. As the photographer notes, “I want the viewer to think they’ve witnessed a secret event, or have just walked in on something they shouldn’t have.” The impression is of works which are one part tableux and one part ‘seen through a keyhole’, to use Edgar Degas’ words. They are both “heavily constructed” but “staged in a real environment” and “believable”, to use Harker’s. The tone, accordingly, is one where cheerful domestic ordinariness is scarcely interrupted by “sinister” and incongruous elements. This tone reflects the fact the images originated from Harker’s interest in both global food production and in the use of allotment spaces locally. His series links wider issues that affect us all, with speculation about how we would individually respond to a thoroughly plausible future crisis.
The triptych series Transmutations is the culmination of an enquiry into the complex subject of Man’s relationship with Nature. With the application of the symbolic use of the natural and the manmade, I examine the very fabric of photography itself.
The camera, the manmade element, uses nature (light) to reflect and freeze a moment. Water, one essential element of life is frozen to produce icy landscapes demonstrating a constructed echo of the cameras intention. The feathers, again symbolic of the natural, spark notions of flight, nature’s complexity and power, of Greek mythology (Icarus) and wonderment. The magic of the natural and the manmade collide and provide us with a moment of reflection into the world of technology and Natural History.
The Greek linguistic origins of the word Photography also provide the perfect platform to examine the marriage between the manmade and the natural, therefore signifying the integral role of text within my creative practice. The continuing battle and dependence between Man and Nature is ever present, with technology at the forefront providing solutions and destruction in equal measure.
“A compound of two Greek components – phos (light) and graphie (writing, drawing and delineation) – photography is significant on a number of levels. As a word, it posits a paradoxical coalition of “light” (sun, God, nature) and “writing” (history, humankind, culture), an impossible binary opposition “fixed” in uneasy conjunction only by the artifice of language.”
Burning with Desire, Geoffrey Batchen
It is estimated that there are at least 250,000 people in the UK suffering with the chronic, disabling illness Myalgic Encephalopathy or ME as it has become known. All types of people at all ages are affected with symptoms that include severe and debilitating fatigue, painful muscles and joints, disordered sleep, gastric disturbances, poor memory and concentration, depression, and sometimes even death. Seen, not just as an ‘invisible’ illness as regards its myriad of internal symptoms, ME is also often regarded by the general public and many medics as ‘invisible’ because they do not believe in its existence. The cause is unknown and as yet there is no cure.
When my daughter, Emilia, became ill with ME four years ago I found myself cast as a traveler between two worlds, worlds that are eloquently described by Susan Sontag in her book Illness as Metaphor:
Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.
Residing in the world of the well I felt assuaged with guilt at not being able to offer Emilia any firm answers to her questions as to why she was trapped in the land of the sick: “Why do I feel like this? Why is this happening to me? Why can’t you give me anything to make me better?” So, in search of solutions I trawled the Internet, read medical books and dragged Emilia in front of a plethora of disbelieving doctors, before finally finding direction from a local charity (ME North East) and a tangible diagnosis of ME from an understanding and empathetic consultant. But this is also when I truly discovered what it must be like for residents of the ‘sick’ world, and especially for those who reside in that strange, elusive world of the invisibly sick.