This is an intimate portrait of a peripheral and charismatic community of the high desert, struggling to find meaning and moments of grace in a hostile environment. This community is scattered around the edge of a National Park drawn by the promise of the last wilderness.
The work explores the encounters between people and nature, it is a play with light, impermanence and the faculties of seeing, embracing complex visual strategies. Working with both the black of the night and the blinding light of the day, this work investigates the narrative potential of photography in relation to its abstract capacities, bringing forth a reality that is simultaneously uncanny and unknowable. I am interested in landscape, and particularly in combining a desire to experience the ‘sublime’ with the inexplicable seduction of the abyss.
This desert community offers many the opportunity to start anew, providing a blank slate of sorts for people attracted to this fragile and contrary environment, to make a life in a merciless clime that is not nearly as empty as it looks. The nature of this human ecosystem is that of a paradox demonstrating an intensity and delicateness, isolation and accessibility, diversity and ambiguity.
Calling upon one of photography’s earliest uses—recording the vast, unexplored landscapes of the world—but of course in the American West everywhere has been conquered and exhausted, so people look to the desolate outposts and then to the heavens in search of the authentic wilderness. The images generate a powerful atmosphere and sense of place, one that is infused with the desire, uncertainty and anticipation associated with the unseen.
This essay was Shortlisted for the EPF 2016
Zoe Childerley is a British artist with an MA in Photography and a strong record in community projects. She is currently a Senior Lecturer at Kingston University and has been working as an artist using photography and mixed media for over 10 years. Childerley has exhibited nationally and internationally and undertaken numerous commissions and residencies. Her work explores new environments, is developed by interaction with different communities and is inspired by the discovery of everyday stories; reflecting a vision of the world concerned with identity, belonging and our relationship to the land. Zoe is interested in how the landscape shapes society, how “place” is constituted, deconstructed, augmented, discussed, experienced. Collaboration with the communities she is working in is important to her practice and she also brings drawing, audio and moving image into her work.