Paulo Coelho wrote 'Not all storms come to disrupt your life; some come to clear your path' (The Zahir, 2005), this is what happened to Jon Cazenave with his long-haul project Galerna (storm in Basque). An essay by Fannie Escoulen in the publication asks 'where does this storm come from?'. The answer comes in Cazenave's almost religious undertaking of photography through which he found a way of channelling hostility into forgiveness towards his Basque homeland. Regardless of what the haunting hostility is, it is political violence in Cazenave's case, I have written before (here) about leaving England through a sense of disenchantment and now through my own work, I am trying to mend that relationship and re-connect by seeking out a spiritual influence in nature.
Escoulen repeatedly uses religious references in her essay, she states Casenave took up photography: 'the way people take up religious orders', 'through photography he found a way of exorcizing the anger taken over him', 'one must look to the deep black that haunts him to ... from which he had to emerge to see the light'. I am interested in these religious analogies given that I have recently started researching the ruins of (Christian) hermitage cells and oratories in Cornwall to photograph for my project. I see these as a good philosophical metaphor for seeking out nature-based spiritual enlightenment, in solitude, away from society. It is interesting to think about the parallels between photography and religion in so far as both essentially are about transforming darkness into light. Cazenave's work comes from solitary wanders in his land whilst trying to 'become one with it', through which he gradually learns to embrace and connect, I am taking the same approach in trying to reconcile with England.
The statement for Galerna on Cazenave's website reads: '...nature, history and legend come together with unusual force and create a land of myths and magic that I explore through photography. A land where nature is praised in old rites learned from our ancestors. These intangible concepts...create a visual imaginary which serves me to understand the society and the land I live in... Trees, waves, animals and black skies build a symbolic world that I turn into a channel to reach the soul of the Basques, an old soul, the soul of the one who pursues its lost paradise'. The work expresses an elemental desire to return to a source, in a time when nature was more important. But this place doesn't exist, it is blend of mediated history and imagination. Cazenave is using photography to create an almost imaginary land, the place he wants to return is not tangible.
Places, identities and emotions are intangible and unmeasurable, Brad Fruerhelm makes this the central point of his review of Galerna for American Suburb X in which he reminds us of the importance of distinguishing between 'description' and 'approximation'. Fruerhelm points out Cazenave recognises that in photographic authorship we can only suggestively talk 'around things' rather than claiming to describe them: "its best course of action is to speak about these topics in metaphor as if an attempt at truth will not be tolerated by observers from a secondhand accounting...he has extended the possibility of approximation by decisively thinking through atmosphere and effect allowing the images to 'suggest' and not 'tell' or 'describe'. The images resonate with very little outside knowledge of the place and yet, you cannot read the images as 'what is', but rather 'what could be'." (Fruerhelm, 2021). Representational truths cannot be communicated to an audience as if a direct experience, in a presumed position of authority, but rather by way of association.
Aesthetic obscurantism is important, some things are best described by imagination. Surely an essence is infinitely more interesting than a fact? Outside the realms of what you could call 'responsible' journalistic photography, transparency and ideological clarity in some respects can diminish effectiveness. In respect of wabi-sabi, candour would diminish its elusive and mysterious qualities. Koren said 'wabi-sabi is never used as a representation or symbol' (Koren, 1994:21) because wabi-sabi is only ever referential. Wabi-sabi talks around things as opposed to of things directly.
I am not qualified to represent the ancient history and cultures of Cornwall, I can only talk suggestively 'around' my own loose analogous approximation. It is only by contextualising work as an approximation that I can qualify any claim to anything that I photograph. By doing so, inadvertently, the work becomes unique, but that's a different conversation for another time.
Cazenave, Jon (2020). Galerna. EXB/Dalpine 1st Edition. Available at: https://www.dalpine.com/products/galerna-jon-cazenave
Freurhelm, Brad (2021). Jon Cazenave Galerna. America Suburb X, 08.04.21 [online]. Available at: https://americansuburbx.com/2021/04/jon-cazenave-galerna.html [accessed 29.05.21]