Between Two Mysteries

Another Place is a contemporary photography press based in the Scottish Highlands, publishing work that explores the relationship between identity and landscape, and ideas of the everyday sublime. One of the press’s latest photobooks, published this November, is Carl Bigmore’s (b. 1982) Between Two Mysteries, which captures the dreamy atmosphere of America’s Pacific Northwest.

Bigmore is a British photographer, which perhaps explains the strange exoticism of these images, depicting Washington State and the surrounding regions. They possess a quality of wonder perhaps uniquely tangible to the outsider. The subject-matter is, mostly, mundane: highways, waste grounds and the scrubby shores of rivers and lakes, interspersed with snippets of alpine forest and interior desert. But they carry a strong charge of the uncanny.

This is partly due to the chosen settings: liminal spaces between the urban and rural where the city’s architecture seems almost superimposed over a wildness visible through its cracks. The constant presence of low-hanging, thick banks of cloud, and a subdued colour-palette – often as if a soft light were filling the scenes as a solid element – adds a gloss of unreality. As viewers, we feel that what we are seeing is somehow morethan what is actually there.

Dotted throughout these landscapes are a cast of characters, from cowboys to check-out girls, who evoke the various cultural archetypes of the area. Washington State is the home of grunge – one shot shows us a rock-face etched with the word “KURT” – and hairy, baggy-clothed teenagers (and gen Xers) glance out furtively or quizzically from several pages. So too, bikers, lumberjacks and leather-chapped horsemen muster associations of the imperial outback, whilst a Native American headdress hints at earlier mythologies of landscape, and a history of violent encounters, not least on the 2,200 miles of the Oregon Trail which took emigrants through Native American territories to the valleys of Oregon in the 19th century.

The relationship between subject and backdrop suggests submerged narratives and interactions. We wonder who these people are; where they are going; with what thoughts they return our gaze. They seem like the subjects of a dream sequence more than an anthropological study. Again, a strong sense of the fictive or allegorical is rendered, remaining tantalisingly at the edges of expression. 

Film and song excerpts – which are also associated with the region – further embed these qualities of intertextual narrative. A brooding image of the Timberline Lodge in Oregon (used for the exterior shots of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic The Shining) faces a segment of script from the film, whilst an assortment of macabre trinkets on a bedside table – including a skull – is accompanied by lyrics from Liz Harris’s Oregon-based dreampop project Grouper. Nirvana is quoted elsewhere, whilst the whole sequence is fronted with the words to Mt. Eerie’s Between Two Mysteries, a paean to singer Phil Alverum’s native Washington. These threads – musical and cinematic – further hint at some underlying harmony or through-line, a fictional conceit that we can’t quite grasp.

This is a book that holds its mysteries at arm’s length, leaving us in the end only with a feeling of the ineffable quality of the everyday. Like much of the roster of Another Place, it showcases an exciting project within contemporary experimental photography.

Words: Greg Thomas | Between Two Mysteries is published with Another Place Press. For more information, click here.

Dusk at Mount Hood, Oregon © Carl Bigmore.
2. The Sol Duc Rainforest in the Olympic National Park, Washington © Carl Bigmore.
Winta, Portland © Carl Bigmore.
4. The Painted Hills form part of the John Day Fossil Beds located in Eastern Oregon
© Carl Bigmore.
5. Laura and James in a friend’s car outside Scott’s Dairy Freeze, North Bend, Washington © Carl Bigmore.
6. Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon © Carl Bigmore.
7. A residential street in Vancouver, British Columbia © Carl Bigmore.
8. Dani, Olympia, Washington © Carl Bigmore.
9. Jeff’s House, Salem, Oregon © Carl Bigmore.
10. Diorama, Burke Museum of Natural History, Seattle © Carl Bigmore.
11. Route 26, Oregon
© Carl Bigmore.