white gaze – the past is always present

The White Gaze: Unnatural Landscapes and the Other

EDIT: 10th August 2022.

Today I discovered the work of Charlotte Lagarde, ‘Colonial White’, made in 2018, in the book released by The Racial Imagery Institute a friend purchased for me in the Photographer’s Gallery in London, titled ‘On Whiteness’. Her work takes an approach which very similar to the one I have adopted and I feel it is important to recognise this. Although I was not aware of the body of work made by Charlotte Lagarde when I made ‘White Gaze’ in 2020, it clearly predates mine. You can view ‘Colonial White’ and other work by Charlotte Lagarde at https://www.charlottelagarde.com/

White Gaze – Past is Always Present

As we tackle the way we memorialise the past I was reminded of the colonial photography of Samuel Bourne in the late 1860s. Bourne is described in some detail in James Ryan’s excellent book: Picturing Empire. Ryan comments on the initial disappointment Bourne felt that India had “no lakes, no rivers, and scarcely anything like a stream… no rustic bridges and no ivy clad ruins” to photograph.  Although he did find Kashmir to have these qualities, he lamented that it would not replace England.  Thus, Bourne, like many, made the ‘different’ more familiar by imposing an aesthetic of European landscape photography upon his understanding of Indian landscapes and culture. 

In responding to the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping the world, I have to account for my white European, male privilege in my work, and cannot voice injustice on behalf of those whose voices are now being heard, as those voices should not be mediated through a white channel. They speak powerfully in their own right.  Therefore, my work reflects on my privilege and concentrates on my experience – hoping to show by the absence of others where the issues lie.

“The Past is Always Present” comments, through the motif of white blocks and white frames intruding on the scene, on the way that landscapes are not naturally occurring but are socially constructed.  The urban woodland areas around my house in Inverness are the preserve of the dominant group and people who are ‘other’ will choose to avoid these places. They are spaces where vulnerability is exacerbated and the chances of negative encounters are heightened. So, although not visibly marked as such, they are landscapes of white, male privilege.  They act as constant reminders of vulnerability and marginalisation.   

They are as much a monument to colonialism as statues.