Images created on medium format transparency film (6x7) on both sides of the Dead Sea over a period of 4 months, with processing and test printing initially undertaken in Amman, Jordan. Images resolution tested and scanned to be then tested and digitally
'deadcalm tower 21' from the 2017-2019 closeupatadistance series, presents a dialectical spatial opposition that unfolds over photographic and video works... Read More
'deadcalm tower 21' from the 2017-2019 closeupatadistance series, presents a dialectical spatial opposition that unfolds over photographic and video works and engages with the aftermath of human action on Earth’s topography. In keeping with Roberts-Goodwin’s interest in trade routes, colonisation, migration and cultural displacement, the works traverse geopolitically contested locations at two extreme points of elevation: the Dead Sea and the Himalayan Mountains.
The Dead Sea, at the lowest elevation point on Earth, is a salt lake made famous by its waters that are largely absent of life and are highly buoyant enabling tourists to float aimlessly. The feeling of stillness experienced by floating in the almost motionless water is condensed in the series deadcalm, with their intensely flat and disorienting surfaces. The artist was drawn to this ever-changing landscape, as a contested site of desolation, sublime beauty and conflict, to work with a team of environmentalists. Roberts-Goodwin researched and photographed the landscape as akin to engaging with a ruin aesthetic, established in the western tradition as sites of contemplation on hu-mankind’s past achievements. Here, the images of stillness belie the ongoing environmental destruction and human conflict over settlement rights that continue along its banks that lie between Palestine and Jordan.
deadcalm distance 100 and 101, taken from elevated points on the op-posing banks of the occupied territories and Jordan, are images not only of stillness but of endless time that is seemingly embedded into the very pigments of the prints. To look at these photographs is to look into the vast unknowable space of time and history recalling Walter Benjamin’s musings on the decay of the aura. In illustrating his concept Benjamin turns to what he refers to as the aura of natural objects, “to follow with the eye—while resting on a summer afternoon—a mountain range on the horizon or a branch that casts its shadow on the beholder is to breathe the aura of those mountains, of that branch.”1
The Dead Sea research undertaken by Roberts-Goodwin also encompassed studying archival photographs from the Library of Congress Matson Collection in Washington, a rich historical source for images of the Middle East. The majority of the archive’s 23,000 glass and film negatives and photographic prints depict Palestine from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, many taken by the American Colony Photo Department. This photo studio serviced the large tourist trade documenting Middle Eastern Culture from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the Palestinian Exodus in 1948.2
Through these works Roberts-Goodwin critically explores the conditions of human mobility and colonization of these extreme locations as sites of displacement, slippage and alienation. Much like Benjamin’s aura or Hito Steyerl’s wretched screen photographs flow through time and space, like the Jordan River flowing into the Dead Sea or the rivers of the Himalayan Mountains, depositing their debris like cast-out memories along the shorelines of history.3
1. Walter Benjamin, Work of Art in the Age of Reproducibility (Third Version), 1939, Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, volume 4 1938-1940, Edmund Jephcott et al eds. (Cam-bridge Mass. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), 255.
2. Barbara Bair, ‘The American Colony Photography Department: Western Consumption and “Insider” Commercial Photography’, Jerusalem Quarterly 44 (2010): 28–38.
3. Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen (Berlin: Sternberg Press/e-flux journal, 2013).
Dr Donna West Brett lectures in art history at the University of Sydney. She is author of Photography and Place: Seeing and Not Seeing Germany After 1945 (Routledge 2016); ‘Interventions in Seeing: GDR Surveillance, Camouflage & the Cold War Camera’, in Camouflage Cultures: the Art of Disappearance (University of Sydney Press, 2015); ‘Home and Homelessness: Ann Shelton’s Aesthetics of Displacement’ in Ann Shelton: Dark Matter (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki Gallery, 2016) and ‘Forgetting Ilse Bing’, in Kris Belden-Adams, ed. Photography and Failure: One Medium’s Entanglement with Flops, Underdogs, and Disappointments (Bloomsbury, 2017). Brett is an editorial member
& reviews editor for the Australian & NZ Journal of Art and Research Leader for the Phot-graphic Cultures Research Group.