ESCAPE

Escape is sometimes used as a term to describe breaking free from some form of constraint, physical or emotional, or generally fleeing any dire or merely disagreeable situation. For people fleeing war and conflict, escape has literal meaning (see RUPTURE). For the privileged inhabitants of the world, the term has a positive connotation: “getting away from it all”. We search for entertainement, relaxation and rest, or novelty, adventure and excitement. An industry of pleasure has blossomed, offering a spectacular array of ‘products’ to its avid consumers around the globe, whilst providing rich inspiration for photographers as they pull back the curtain on the true costs of the industry.

127 | Escape

Massimo Vitali

Piscinao de Ramos

2012

Courtesy the artist

Vitali’s photograph of a blinding white sand beach and bathers speaks of a global collective rite. Our animal ancestors came out of the water 400 million years ago – might there be some atavistic memory? The photographer’s primary focus is, of course, the colourful crowd, and he brings his horizon line nearly to the top edge of the composition to accommodate it, thus reversing the usual perspective of a vast ocean stretching to the horizon. Each year, millions still take pleasure in this simple escape from daily routines, sharing the desire to ‘get away from it all’, but actually, often, craving the companionship of others.

128 | Escape

An-My Lê

Film Set (“Free State of Jones”), Battle of Corinth, Bush, Louisiana

2015

from series Day Break

Courtesy the artist

An-My Lê’s photograph is taken on the set of an American Civil War–era film, Free State of Jones (2016), which tells the story of a Confederate Army deserter. This image, like so many of Lê’s works, oscillates through time and space. The imagined past and workaday present sit side by side, prompting the question: when does history end and the present begin? The popularity of war stories in popular culture would in some ways suggest that the raw materials of – race, class, labour and capital – of America’s bloodiest war are still deeply enmeshed in the physical landscape and the fabric of American society today

129 | Escape

Zhang Xiao

Coastline No.2

2009

from series Coastline

Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery

China has 18,000 kilometres of coastline, and Zhang has made a project of photographing life along it and, at holiday times, within it, as millions of citizens escape briefly from dense city living. When he was a child, Zhang was drawn to the sea and its mysteries, which he felt were eternal: ‘I still feel the same. I come here to seek those strong emotions and rich imagery, and perhaps there are also disappointments. The sea is the beginning of lives and dreams; at the same time, I am looking for the homeland in my heart.’

130A | Escape

Simon Roberts

Annual Eton College Procession of Boats, River Thames, Windsor, Berkshire, UK

2016

from series Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies of a Small Island

Courtesy Flowers Gallery London & New York

For all Brits, of whatever social class, Eton retains it’s association with the ruling elite: restrained taste, uniformity (literally, note the students), unquestioned privilege, and certainty. Simon Robert’s distance from the crowd is therefore symbolic, meaning to suggest a very small ‘they’ and an immense ‘us’. Decorum reigns. The boat race itself is symbolic: success comes about as a result of teamwork, timed with the precision of clockwork, and not from unseemly individualistic striving. The boat crew might as well be a military squad, disciplined and sure of victory.

130B | Escape

Simon Roberts

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Shoreham Air Show, West Sussex, UK

2007

from series Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies of a Small Island

Courtesy Flowers Gallery London & New York

In all Roberts’s photographs, he makes use of the grand overview, recording people as formal patterns within the landscape. Each photograph situates an event in a pictorial vista from an elevated viewpoint, a strategy familiar from landscape painting. In fact, the pictures are often taken from the roof of Roberts’s motorhome. As a result, the viewer is often placed at a discreet distance and elevation from the subject, separating them from the action as detached, critical viewers. In essence, the photographer attempts to map patterns that are not possible to see from a position within the crowd.

131 | Escape

George Georgiou

from left to right

Mardi Gras Parade, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. 06/02/2016

Mardi Gras Parade, Algiers, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. 06/02/2016

2016

from series In the company of Strangers: Americans Parade

Courtesy the artist

George Georgiou has subtitled his book on parades in American with the words ‘in the company of strangers’. While ‘company’ and ‘strangers’ would seem to be mutually exclusive, the fusion seems to get at the heart of the powerful rituals he is documenting. In an extensive series of such photographs taken across the country, the photographer provides a portrait of modern American society, riven by divisions of class and race, yet united by a deep-seated curiosity and respect for the traditions being celebrated. No matter that the parades themselves go unseen: The people have gathered themselves together – on lawns, parking lots, and street corners, unbeknownst by them, for a family portrait.

132 | Escape

Reiner Riedler

Wild River, Florida

from series Fake holidays

Courtesy the artist

True wilderness is hard to come by in an era when planetary civilisation’s colonising powers reign supreme. Perhaps people instinctively, if somewhat dimly, recall our species’ thousands of years of struggle with the forces of nature, when we had only our pantheistic deities to protect us, and still crave a touch of the real thing. The ‘Wild Rivers’ of our most elaborate amusement parks are places where people negotiate turbulent currents overlooked by towering mountain crags and primeval forests. The rides give the illusion of controlling nature, yet actually move on pre-determined tracks.

133 | Escape

Matthieu Gafsou

Traces 3a

2016

from series Ether

Courtesy Galerie Eric Mouchet

For most of human existence, perhaps 250,000 years, men and women were able to look upwards and feel a sense of wonder at the majesty of the sky, especially during the periods of dusk and dawn, when it became gloriously multi-hued. Before 1900 no human presence could be seen; it was the realm of spirits and of gods. With our taking to the air, this would change; today it is impossible not to be reminded of our aerial presence. Now admiring a sunset means marveling at air travel: our ‘wonder’ is directed at what each contrail signals: where the plane is going, and how it is they manage not to collide with each other.

134 | Escape

Richard Misrach

Untitled (November 9, 2013, 9:49am)

2013

from series On The Beach

Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Alone-ness (as opposed to loneliness) is a state of being that’s increasingly hard to come by in a civilisation constantly on the move, resource-rich but time-poor, and always encouraging groupthink, sharing and ‘community’. ‘Like’, don’t think. Misrach reminds us of the value of such moments of solitude, as far from the madding crowd as it is possible to be yet embraced and buoyed up by nature.

135 | Escape

Jeffrey Milstein

From the top

Carnival Sensation, 2013
Caribbean Princess, 2014

2014

from series Cruise ships

Courtesy the artist

Pilot and photographer Jeffrey Milstein is a master of the directly-above vantage point, which here transforms mammoth objects – often referred to as ‘floating leisure palaces’, with correspondingly ennobling names of ‘Princess’, ‘Majesty’ and ‘Royal’ – into what appear to be intricate toys. These vessels, some of modern civilisation’s most intricate and cleverly designed artefacts, contrast sharply with the often makeshift rafts launched by refugees.

136 | Escape

Giles Price

Presumed dead. Gettysburg Readdressed

2013

Courtesy the artist

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought between Union and Confederate forces on three hot days in July, 1863. The battle is widely understood to be the American Civil War’s turning point, as it stopped General Robert E. Lee’s march to the north. Most observers of this historical re-enactment, sitting comfortably in camp chairs and armed with smartphones, are concentrating their lenses on the field of battle, where volunteers play dead or prance about as victors. But Price steps back and positions his lens behind the observers, taking them in equally as players in the unfolding drama. What are they thinking, these men? Yearning to re-write history with a confederate victory? Imagining their own glorious deeds on a field of battle?

137 | Escape

Olaf Otto Becker

Point 660, 2, 08/2008 67°09’04’’N, 50°01’58’’W, Altitude 360M

2008

from series Above Zero

Courtesy the artist

Becker issued this wake-up call on the unfolding environmental disaster in the Arctic more than a decade ago, and since then the problems have only accelerated. The images of this area that have been lodged in the collective imagination for centuries – of unbroken vistas of pristine snow, prowling polar bears and basking seals – are now a thing of the past. The reality today includes submarines and icebreakers looking for profitable routes for exploitation, and tourists on brief forays onto the ice from well-heated cruise ships, hunting for photographs to show off as trophies back home.

138 | Escape

Sheng-Wen Lo

Diergaarde Blijdorp Rotterdam, The Netherlands

2016

from series White Bear

Courtesy the artist

As the artist says, this series ‘depicts polar bears on display in their artificial habitats around the world; I attempt to engage with dilemmas concerning captive animal programmes … As natural habitats are being destroyed, it may be reasonable to keep certain species in controlled environments; however, I think it is questionable whether some results are a true reflection of the original motive. The existence of captive white bears embodies this ambiguity. Promoted as exotic tourist-magnets (mega fauna), the bears stand at the point where the institutions’ mission of conservation, research and education is challenged by their interest in entertainment.’

139 | Escape

Giles Price

Everest Base Camp 1, Nepal. Human + Nature

2015

Courtesy the artist

Price’s work examines environments affected by human presence. These include major structural interventions and landscapes transformed by mass gatherings, human endeavour, even protest, as well as human impact on an environmental, economic and political scale. He often uses scale to make his point, frequently from above, where mass behaviour is more evident than it is from the ground. His series Human + Nature looks at the physical impact of humankind’s growing pursuit of climbing Mount Everest. At first glance, we imagine we are seeing refuse, but it is in fact thousands of encampments housing Sherpas and the increasing number of climbers.