A PHOTO PROJECT BY DIFFUSION AND PLATES TO PIXELS ALUM PHIL NESMITH.
To create compelling images of boundary area landscapes to be the heart of national and international exhibitions, and possibly to serve as material for a photo book (money pledged to project will only assist funding of image creation).
My work is focused on the blurring of time, and this project will continue the intersection of past and present begun with the My Baghdad (2007), and Flow(2010) bodies of work (see galleries here). The ambrotype views captured with the 19th century wet collodion photographic process* for this project will modify our contemporary understanding of time, bending, folding, tugging it backwards along the sliding-scale of memory, challenging the viewer to question our ideas of progress, history, and America’s obsession with security.
This project is focused on the vast desert landscapes of the more remote border areas of southern Arizona, while grounded in the aesthetics and methods of the photographic images created during the great American West survey expeditions of the 1870s. Long stretches the Arizona border, established in 1853 by the Gadsden Purchase, and the lands surrounding it have changed little since that time, marred only by the jarring appearance of modern surveillance equipment and operations. Imagine a beautiful 20” panoramic plate depicting the rugged desert landscape, an image that could have been produced by Timothy O’Sullivan, Alexander Gardner, or Eadweard Muybridge during the Modoc Indian War of 1873 only to have your sense of time jolted into the present by the realization that in the distance you see a 100’ Department of Homeland Security surveillance tower observing the creation of its own image.
The part of the Sonoran Desert I will be operating in is the same desert that gave birth to the American legends of Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone. It is the same desert that Francisco Vasquez de Coronado plunged into searching for El Dorado. This landscape has been the stage upon which so much human theater has been played out. Although the desert boundary area is vast, just about any location you might find yourself someone is watching your every move. From ragged hilltops, spotters working for drug and human traffickers lay in silence for days directing the movement of their shipments north. The government watches day and night by employing the latest military surveillance equipment ranging from fixed and mobile camera towers, UAVs, Areostat balloon systems, ground surveillance radar, seismic sensors, and helicopters, and it is this watchful landscape that I am most interested in.
*Note: This project produces unique direct positive glass images known as ambortypes, not glass negatives as depicted in the video above. The same process is used to create both image types.