New York, 11 September 2001 2001
Private collection ©Jeff Mermelstein
I was on total autopilot the day of the attack in the World Trade Center, I don't really remember finding that statue covered in debris. I'm not a war photographer, so this wasn't an easy experience for me. The constantly shattering glass was terrifying and distracting, and my camera kept getting completely covered in ash. But beacause for years I have been taking documentary pictures of New Yorkers out on the sidewalks, there is a way in which I was prepared. - Jeff Mermelstein
On September 27, 1940, two German bombs destroyed most of Holland House, a private residence in west London. The extensive library losts its roof but the shelves were laft remarkably undamaged. A press photographer whose name has been lost, took at least three shots of men looking through the books.
In 1936, Walker Evans was in Alabama, on assignment for Forture magazine to photograph the lives of poor tenant farmers struggling to survive in the severe drought and economic depression.
A mechanic gets a dirty hand from the thickly dust-laden automobile abandoned in a Milan garage after it carried the late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to his death. He was riding in it when captured by partisans and executed. A Lancia, licensed in Verona in the name of Carla Bianchi, can be claimed by the owner if he pays the 2,000,000 Lira parking fee for the ten years it has stood still. That's almost twice the price of a new car. 4/12/1955
Courtesy of the artist
Rut Blees Luxemburg photographs cities at night, often looking for enigmatic traces of human presence. Nach Innen/ In Deeper is a long exposure image showing footsteps in the silt of the river Thames, on the steps near Waterloo Bridge.
Courtesy of the artist
Oates gathers dry earth from sites where 'fracking' is planned, and uses it to recreate maps of the sites in her studio.
Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Jérôme Poggi, Paris
By shifting from the airto the ground, I sought to destroy any notion of scale in Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp's Elevage de Poussiere (Dust Breeding). It's a picture which fascinates me and which I kept in my mind throughout the time I was working out there [in Kuwait]. The constant shift between the infinitely big and the infinitely small may disorientate the spectator. But it is a good illustration of our relationship to the world: we have at our disposal modern techniques for seeing everything, apprehending everything, yet we see nothing. - Sophie Ristelhueber
Per Amor a l'Art Collection, Valencia
On the 24th of February 2004 corporate developers Necso-Acciona sent heavy machinery to a flattened industrial plot of their property in the city of Barcelona which was being occupied by some sixty Gypsy families. Over a few days diggers and excavators drilled and lifted up the concrete floor of the site, intimidating the Gypsies and finally pushing them out, leaving behind a contorted surface, like a horizontal wall, to protecct the site and keep it empty. A method of dissuasion which demonstrates the economic value of violence and destruction, even of your own property, in order to control space. The broken ground, the fissures and fragments of concrete slabs standing up like remnants of ancient Mayan stelae give testimony still today of an absent, violently displaced community. - Xavier Ribas
Courtesy of the artist. Source image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech
Stenram purchased digital files from NASA of images of the surface of Mars. She had them turned into analogue negative film. She placed these negatives around her house, allowing them to gather domestic dust. Prints were then made from the dusty negatives.
October 6, 2007, from the series The Disappearance of Darkness
Courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery
To stand in front of one of those Kodak film factories and watch it reduced to dust in a matter of seconds was sad, sublime and ironic all at once. I included the crowds in my photographs noting most everyone was documenting these spectacles with a digital capture device ... of some kind — even though most had been employed by Kodak and worked in these buildings for the better part of their lives. - Robert Burley
Courtesy of Dr. J. Patrick and Patricia Kennedy
For this series, Divola broke into a number of abandoned houses. He used spray paint, string and other materials to 'vandalize' the spaces, knowing he would then photograph the results. Destruction and creativity become inseparable.
Carmel, from The Patriarch's Wardrobe
Courtesy of the artist
These photographs were taken in the land that was once called Palestine, on a landfill site south of the city of Hebron. The waste delivered to the landfill comes from Jewish Settlements in the Judea region of the West Bank. Before the waste is buried, it is scanvenged for anything of worth by Palenstine children, working in groups for adult 'handlers.' It was agreed I would work at a distance so as not to reveal their identities. I made paintings of the landscape of the West Bank. They represent pieces of this disputed land, and are titled with a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic place names. They are based on colours caught by my photographs. - Nick Waplington
David Campany is a writer, curator and Managing Director of Programs at the International Center of Photography, New York. He is the author of several books including On Photographs 2020, The Lives and Loves of Images 2020, The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip 2014, Anonymes: Unnamed America in Photography and Film 2010, Walker Evans: the magazine work 2014, Photography and Cinema 2008, and Art and Photography 2003. He has published over two hundred essays on subjects as diverse as forensic photography, film stills, photojournalism, surrealism, conceptual art and architectural photography. Recent curatorial projects include the six-museum Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie, 2020, Germany. For his writing, David has received the ICP Infinity Award, the Kraszna-Krausz Book Award, a Deutscher Fotobuchpreis, and a Royal Photographic Society award.
An enigmatic photograph made by Man Ray serves as a point of departure for the exhibition A Handful of Dust: from the Cosmic to the Domestic, organized by British curator and renowned image researcher, David Campany. The exhibition explores the complexities of the relationship between photography and art in the past century, and contemplates the various allegories represented by dust throughout the development of human civilization on scales as varied as the minutiae of domesticity and the grandeur of the universal, as well as examines ways in which these metaphors are explored and presented in the expression of photography and visual art.
Radiating from the life (or the mysterious identity) of May Ray’s enigmatic photo of dust as a main axis, the 66 sets of work displayed at the National Center of Photography and Images encompass aerial reconnaissance photos, news photography, postcards, and avant-garde publications from the first half of the 20th century; as well as photographic representations of conceptual art, works of the dialectics between painting and photography, and images of modern warfare and the aftermath of natural disasters. More recent works included in the exhibition highlight artistic interpretations of urgent propositions that confront our time, as well as point out major transformations in the practice and technological advancements of photography.
In addition to works by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, A Handful of Dust also features works by major figures throughout the history of photography: including Walker Evans’s works depicting drought-stricken panoramas in the American Midwest during the Dust Bowl, and Shōmei Tōmatsu’s photos of the Japanese landscape in the aftermath of the atomic bomb. Works by Edward Ruscha and John Divola further introduce photography into the realm of artistic performance. Sophie Ristelhueber pays homage to Man Ray’s iconic Dust Breeding through her aerial photograph of the Kuwaiti desert, which at the same time reveals a burgeoning transformation in the 1990s when war photography pivoted from images taken “at” the war to the “aftermath” and “remnants” of the war; while video artist Kirk Palmer and celebrated French filmmaker Alain Resnais present the language of post-war trauma through poetic imagery. The exhibition also includes works by a younger generation of artists such as Xavier Ribas and Louise Oates, who explore changes in the natural and cultural landscapes as a result of political or economic behavior; as well as Eva Stenram’s transformations of photos of Mars by intentionally accumulating dust on the image surface to create a juxtaposition of vastly varied distances.
In the same year that Dust Breeding was first published, T.S. Eliot penned the The Waste Land, a poem which reflected the general public’s sentiment in the aftermath of World War I; a line from the poem “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” is referenced in the exhibition title. Man Ray’s photograph resembled aerial surveillance photos of World War I, and was captioned “Vue prise en aéroplane [view from an airplane] …” when first published. The landscape below is vast, unknown, distant, and exposed to view. David Campany has uncovered the key to all of this: The increasing ubiquity of photography in the 20th century not only documents but portends the progress and destruction of human civilization. In this light, he posits the question: “What if that strange photograph, taken so long ago, really does signal the dawn of the modern age, with all its complications? Can a history be assembled from the perspective of dust?”