Presence of Absence *


I conceived the title, ‘Presence of Absence’ to describe interactions between photography, traumatic memory and landscape. Studies relating to trauma and photography have evolved since Cathy Caruth’s problematic juncture of a ‘crisis in representation, of history and truth and of narrative time’. [1] In his recent essay on ‘Time, Trauma and Photography’, Santasil Mallik cites alternatives to reproducing the inexplicable traumatic event through, ‘new ways of creatively processing it’ [2] and engaging participants ‘not as victims but as storytellers’. [3] Artists and collaborators may seek to understand traumatic memory on their own terms whereby they ‘actively participate in its transformation’. [4] Mallik echoes methodology applicable to my practice that results in ‘emotional truths’ emanating from relationships forged between those in front of and behind the camera and those interpreting the photograph later.


Supported by a Kone Arts Fellowship at the University of Helsinki, the project draws on the psychological and emotional ‘landscape of trauma’ embodied by individuals located in Nordic ‘traumatised landscapes’. Landscape is a ‘cultural phenomenon’ involving active participation, whether it be through indigenous holistic ‘sacred places’, memory associated with grief, loss resulting from climate change or desire for ineffable connections. Memory and landscape transform each other. And while interaction with landscape is an excavation of memory, the reverse is also applicable. Composer John Cage asked, ‘What right do I have to be in the woods if the woods are not in me? [5] When a landscape is full of memory it becomes part of our emotional make-up. Landscape is a dwelling we inhabit that also dwells psychologically and emotionally within us.


[1] Luckhurst 2008, 5

[2] Mallik, 66

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mallik 60

[5] Conversing with Cage, Richard Kostelanetz, John Cage 46


 * Edited excerpt from a forthcoming article.