Text accompanying TULPA exhibition publication
A photograph is a tulpa. A thoughtform, manifest into abject being through intent and ritual. The science is complex, but explicable – light on a surface, or on a sensor, a translation of reflective light, making a mark revealed by a process, an alchemy. But like a tulpa, a photograph rips free of its maker and lives a life on its own. A photograph is born from intent, and lives on from that intentionality as a shadow, a ghost. Even the most candid, from the hip image needs occulted alignment of mind and body, needs a bloody birth. This intent can be hidden in a way that, say, painting cannot hide. You cannot ‘accidentally’ manifest a painting. But all art is conjuration.
It’s no surprise the language of photography is violent – you take and you shoot and you capture. Some photographers rail against this language, score it from their vocabulary – hypocrites. Photography is a violent act of taking. There are cultures – with a much better grasp on the spirit than clerical Western modernity - that believe that the act of being photographed puts the subject’s soul at risk. The arrogance of the modern scoffs at the claim, but I would like evidence to the contrary. After all, a photograph is not neutral. The act of making adds to the weight of the world. Neutrality is impossible. At it’s worst, a photograph lies about fixed-ness. This is a hallmark of the colonial, the imperial.
In addition to being a manifestation, a ghost, a wound, a photograph is also a node in a vast network of control. A photograph can fool the world into thinking it is representative of a reality when it serves to march against the Real. Photography’s violent history of control, of ethnography, of harmful representation proves this over and over again, the hangover brutally felt in the digital image age. Imperial and colonial projects sent photographers to venture to newly conquered lands and return with ‘sublime’ silver-filled vistas of an emptiness to be filled with the modern. A landscape in the trad sense is a void to be filled. But this is not true. Nothing is fixed. Everything lives, and is teeming. Photography can also be an act of necromancy – the photographing of dead things brings them back to life, resurrecting the spirit that has vanished from the original materia.
It follows, if the act of photographing rips a piece of a soul free from the subject, what is lost must reconstitute elsewhere. Energy cannot be destroyed, only transferred. Therefore, every photograph possesses a soul of its own, and becomes something new. Every photograph is a tulpa.
These fears manifest as object are notionally landscape – of landscapes. Landscapes obliterated by blinding white flash, soft places and sharp edges. They are possessed of the fractured souls of places of nature, or where nature and culture are at war, where creeping far-right narratives attempt to claim soil – soil! - as pure. They speak with the language of cloistered place, of borders, of shores and in-betweens. But they are tulpas, thoughtforms manifest, so they are also interior landscapes, an attempt to correlate my own complicity in the violence of photography. A silvered, fractured symbiosis (or parasitism) of the soul of the Outside and the reflection of the Inside. They are not documents, as documentary photography is at best a half-truth, at worst a harmful lie of reinforced subjectivity, mute at the loss of possible futures stolen by failed modernity.