A Sense of Place

A Sense of Place

Since 2005, The Circulation(s) Festival of Young European Photography has been devoted to promoting new voices and visions in European photography. Five artists showing at this year’s festival explore the role of the camera lens in constructing narratives – and fantasies – of identity and place.

Pedro Freitas Silva

Pedro de Freitas Silva is a Portuguese photographer based in the UK, whose work explores the blurred lines between fact and fiction in human belief systems. His recent project, The Flyscreen, focuses on a village community in the Gardunha mountain range in Portugal, including snaps of barren scrubby hillsides and haunting night-portraits. Silva’s own shots are spliced with found and collaged pictures and text: annotated maps, sepias of smoke plumes rising from mountainsides, old group camping snaps. Silva pieces together a patchwork narrative of unspecified events implied to have happened in the region several decades ago: perhaps supernatural, extraterrestrial, or politically dubious in nature. The spur for the project, according to Silva, was an archive of “observations and texts written by A. dos S.D … between 1970 and 1990,” illustrating the strange occurrences he had witnessed in the area. A cursory online search for this mysterious archivist yields no results—indeed, it is likely that his identity is part of the mystery.

Inka et Niclas

Inka and Niclas are a Finnish-Swedish duo whose Family Portraits project (2018-2020) deconstructs the myth-making power of tourist photography. Travelling with their two sons to popular locations saturated with romantic cultural imagination, they photograph themselves in clothes that reflect the light of the camera flash. This makes their bodies appear as radiant voids amongst the mountains, forests and coastal scenery. The pieces deconstruct the modern western phenomenon of the holiday snap, a means of securing stories of identity and belonging. Where beaming parents and children ought to appear, these witty and haunting images provide only ghostly absences. Inka et Niclas suggest the identikit nature of this kind of image by removing individual forms, while also suggesting the impermanence of human life amongst the more enduring presence of rocks, beaches and rivers.

Eleonora Agostini

Based between Venice and London, the Italian artist Eleonora Agostini (b. 1991) combines photography, performance and sculpture to create intermedia encounters with everyday spaces and relationships. For her current project, A Blurry Aftertaste (2018- ), Agostini has photographed domestic objects and family members in strange, alienating arrangements around her home and garden. Often, they appear like circus acrobats, in precarious multi-layered shapes: human pyramids on step-ladders or teetering mounds of desks and chairs. The images are shot in a clinical black-and-white, adding to a sense of simultaneous intimacy and estrangement. As if holding together a set of naturally repellent or diffuse objects, Agostini’s arrangements provide a lucid commentary on the fragile stories we tell ourselves about home and family.

Elliott Verdier

Paris-based photographer Elliot Verdier documents the markings of cultural memory on modern landscapes and people. After producing extraordinary images of post-Soviet life in Kazakhstan for his 2017 project A Shaded Path, during 2018-2020 he travelled to Liberia, to explore how contemporary generations were processing the aftershocks of the 1989-2003 civil war. Verdier found a culture of silent displacement, where scars of the conflict could not be spoken of or shared, partly because the country is still “held,” in the artists words, “by several protagonists of the carnage.” The project that grew from Verdier’s visit, Reaching for Dawn, offers gripping images of almost somnambulic subjects, faces blank as they rise from murky bodies of water, or as an anonymous hand presses onto their shoulder from off-camera. Empty courthouses and swampland, exposed in shadowy greyscale, confirm the impression of a country troubled by a grief it has not yet processed.

Benjamin Schmuck

Paris-born Benjamin Schmuck (b. 1989) has worked across press, advertising and fashion. His 2019-2020 project Lever les Sages (“Rising the Wise”) documents a trip to Benin to capture the practices associated with West-African Vodun (or Voodoo). In Benin, “rising the wise” is the act of thanking an elder for the advice they have given; the “wise” are the dead represented as divinities. Schmuck was particularly intrigued by the divinities of Egoun, the Zangbeto, and Guelede, and their role in ceremonies to communicate with the dead. Their carapace-like costumes, enveloped with prodigal colour and pattern, entirely obscure the bodies and characters of the human beings beneath. The markers between reality and religious revery become blurred; it’s a tension captured well in this dazzling series of images.

Circulation(s) will run from 13 March to 3 May. Find out more here.

Words: Greg Thomas

Image Credits:
1. ©Elliott VERDIER, Reaching for Dawn, 2018-2020.
2. ©Pedro FREITAS-SILVA, The flyscreen, 2019.
3. ©Pedro FREITAS-SILVA, The flyscreen, 2019.
4. ©INKA et NICLAS, Family portraits, 2018-2020.
5. ©Eleonora AGOSTINI, A blurry aftertaste, 2018.
6 ©Eleonora AGOSTINI, A blurry aftertaste, 2018.
7. ©Elliott VERDIER, Reaching for Dawn, 2018-2020.
8. ©Benjamin SCHMUCK, Lever les sages, 2019-2020.
9. ©Benjamin SCHMUCK, Lever les sages, 2019-2020.