Gina Ferguson wrote this for the Outside catalogue. The image above is Kahikatea (paintball), referred to in the essay. Anzac Valley and Rotorua (Tikitapu) are viewable on previous blog posts.
Karen Crisp operates primarily within a post-documentary photographic practice. The photograph provides a scene for examination of the land and the mediated relationships that form through the physical, historical, personal and associative meanings it conjures in the viewer.
Large format lets you see all sorts of stuff, at times you begin to look at details with greater attention than if you were there. This lets you examine the greater scope with an eye for looking beyond the foreground and beneath the surface. When I travel I am always looking at landscapes, and of course it is difficult to be constantly looking for that which has been lost. How to photograph something that is not there? (1)
In these landscapes mediation is primarily sought through absence. The loss of habitat, culture, innocence or the complexities of personal loss, constructs a space that is rich in a history of meaning. These sites are now contestable spaces. Kahikatea (paintball) is photographed on farmland in Te Aroha, the fence is constructed on contested land; it is the target of young boys’ play. The mock fight of childhood parodies the complex adult negotiations over land, the fence signifying the cultural divisions that remain. The irony within Kahikatea (paintball) is also evident in Rotorua (Tikitapu). The familiarity of the typical New Zealand bush clad mountains shrouded in mist is an apt background for the muddied reflection in the lake, reminding us that land negotiations remain unclear. Crisp draws our attention to the raft, somewhat askew, empty, drifting upon a lake it operates as a platform from which youth spring into the deeper unknown shifting waters. Once occupied and echoing with laughter it now resonates in the silence of the departed.
These are places that I have visited, they are all sites of play. (2)
Loss of innocence upon entrance into an adult world is reiterated in the abandoned playhouse that features in Anzac Valley. The playhouse, an icon of childhood occupancy is also a reminder of the human desire to inhabit and lay claim to a place. To want, have and to hold, finally own, if only to let go again. This sentiment is echoed in the empty birdcage; in looking you see what is missing, absent or like the bird, recently flown.
Crisp oscillates between the occupant and the absent which is encapsulated in a type of visual poetry. She seduces us into a safe world through the comfort of the familiar, the sentimentality of childhood memories, idealized landscapes and our own backyard, to then shift the ground in the eyes of the viewer; for these are no ordinary landscapes.
1 & 2: Karen Crisp in private conversation, May 2009