The essential ethics of seeing underpins my landscape works.
In this ongoing project, started a decade ago, I focus on the recurrence of genocide and our collective responsibility as public witness. I use the landscape metaphorically to draw connections between each of these disparate and dark moments in modern history, while suggesting that we, as members of an amorphous humanity, form the true connective tissue between them.
To date the project includes landscape works from Namibia, Poland, Ukraine, Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina, all made within witness distance of sites where acts of genocide were perpetrated. Throughout modern history, Western governments have repeatedly and consistently failed to act in time to stop perpetrators of genocide. As policy makers and government leaders throughout Europe and the United States continue to reckon with their inaction to stop acts of genocide, notably with the post-Holocaust genocides in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Rwanda, so my work examines our role and responsibility as public witness.
Namibia was the site of the first genocide of the twentieth century, where the German occupiers of what was then South West Africa developed and tested concentration camps, which they brutally deployed against the Herero and Nama population from 1904-08. During the Second World War, the first mass victims of the Holocaust were often taken from their homes to locations just outside the towns and villages where they lived. There they were shot. The images from Poland and Ukraine examine those landscapes. In Rwanda in 1994, almost one million people were killed in one hundred days – there is no landscape anywhere in that small country that did not bear witness to the atrocities. And in Bosnia in 1995, the United Nations and the international community failed to honor their commitment to protect the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica and the surrounding areas.
In contrast to the specific locations I shoot, the images are intentionally non-specific. My intent is for the photographs to counter the way information
on this topic is typically disseminated – through the precise lens of the photojournalist, historian, or documentarian. How I make each image is critical
to the project’s concept – using a single exposure, without any compositing or layering in post-production. By using tools of abstraction, I try to expose the layered landscape: its complexities, varied interpretations, and the memories it evokes. I use the concept of “veils” frequently in my work. In creating a “veiled view,” by moving the camera during the exposure, I reflect on the self-imposed veils through which we bear witness, suggesting that it is our veiled societal view that continues to upend our unfulfilled promise of “never again.“
Metaphorically, the landscape – like us – witnesses all. It sheds its leaves in cover-up and complicity. But through its rebirth, so it rejuvenates. It carries with it the traces of the past and promises of the future. It triumphs over trauma. It is inextricably intertwined with our darkest moments and brightest days.
In these works, I am preoccupied with making aesthetic images not documenting brutal facts. By creating these images, my hope is to provide for mo- ments of reflection as viewers interpret the work in their own way and re-engage with subject matter we think we know.