In our world, that’s the way you live your grown-up life: you must constantly rebuild your identity as an adult, the way it’s been put together it is wobbly, ephemeral, and fragile, it cloaks despair and, when you’re alone in front of the mirror, it tells you the lies you need to believe. For Papa, the newspaper and the coffee are magic wands that transform him into an important man. Like a pumpkin into a coach.
It is clear that she had the seed planted, not once, but twice, and knew already the lovely contradictory nature of glass and she did not have to be told, on the day she saw the works at Darling Harbour, that glass is a thing in disguise, an actor, is not solid at all, but a liquid, that an old sheet of glass will not only take on a royal and purplish tinge but will reveal its true liquid nature by having grown fatter at the bottom and thinner at the top, and that even while it is as frail as the ice on a Parramatta puddle, it is stronger under compression than Sydney sandstone, that it is invisible, solid, in short, a joyous and paradoxical thing, as good a material as any to build a life from.
—Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda
When you label so much of what happens to you as ‘bad,’ it reinforces the feeling that you are a powerless pawn at the mercy of outside forces over which you have no control. And – this is key – labeling something a bad thing almost guarantees that you’ll experience it as such.
People today have forgotten they’re really just a part of nature. Yet, they destroy the nature on which our lives depend. They always think they can make something better. Especially scientists. They may be smart, but most don’t understand the heart of nature. They only invent things that, in the end, make people unhappy. Yet they’re so proud of their inventions. What’s worse, most people are, too. They view them as if they were miracles. They worship them. They don’t know it, but they’re losing nature. They don’t see that they’re going to perish. The most important things for human beings are clean air and clean water.
Modern man lives isolated in his artificial environment, not because the artificial is evil as such, but because of his lack of comprehension of the forces which make it work- of the principles which relate his gadgets to the forces of nature, to the universal order. It is not central heating which makes his existence ‘unnatural,’ but his refusal to take an interest in the principles behind it. By being entirely dependent on science, yet closing his mind to it, he leads the life of an urban barbarian.
During our lifetime, places that are special to us either change or become abandoned, decay and disappear. Visiting places that we used to inhabit is disorienting, as feelings of absence and loss mix with poignant memories, both happy and sad.
Photographer Rebecca Bathory, née Litchfield, seeks out neglected places, capturing a sense of this disorientation on a communal scale and documenting what remains of the memories of forgotten people and defunct communities. Her work is often identified as dark tourism photography. Some of her images have a romantic element that borders on the mythological, a power equal to those of more famous buildings in ruin, but much more unique. Many of these places will not survive the ravages of time much longer and there is no one who cares to preserve them. They are structures humanity passes everyday without much thought, their windows boarded shut, languishing and rotting behind tall fences and locked gates, marked only by signs that warn us to keep out. We are conditioned not to see them, but they have stories to tell. Rebecca has gained entry to them for us, bringing back surreal images that stir up buried emotion. These images not only have much to say about our ancestors and the world in which they lived, they also help us comprehend and come to terms with our own future.
The Show Must Go On
Symphony of Silence
All That Remains
Thy Kingdom Come
These powerful photographs are from a collection called Presence of Absence. Although the places pictured are empty, the memory of their inhabitants lingers, slipping away slowly in dark corners, fading from our world. What a precious thing, to catch a piece of human history before it is forgotten!
The Cavern of Lost Souls
Rebecca, who holds degrees in photography and graphic design, is currently pursuing a PHD in visual anthropology, linking her images with those of a century of documentary photographers and expanding her reach into new media and visual forms. Please spend some time on her website, where you can also order prints or a copy of her book, Soviet Ghosts.
Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside. Then, depending on how the rest of the family is feeling that person is kept inside or snatched out, to prove something about the family’s mental health.
The depression belongs to all of us. I think of the family down the road whose mother was having a baby and they went around the neighborhood saying, “We’re pregnant.” I want to go around the neighborhood saying, “We’re depressed.” If my mum can’t get out of bed in the morning, all of us feel the same. Her silence has become ours, and it’s eating us alive.
You become a house where the wind blows straight through, because no one bothers the crack in the window or lock on the door, and you’re the house where people come and go as they please, because you’re simply too unimpressed to care. You let people in who you really shouldn’t let in, and you let them walk around for a while, use your bed and use your books, and await the day when they simply get bored and leave. You’re still not bothered, though you knew they shouldn’t have been let in in the first place, but still you just sit there, apathetic like a beggar in the desert.
Humans react profoundly to images of places, natural or man-made. Why are we moved by locations we have never visited?
From the mystical glow of the Aurora Borealis to the crumbling majesty of the Egyptian pyramids, places make a deep impression on us. We may have no ancestry there, we may never have walked there, but the image of such regions raises a lump in the throat. We wax romantic imagining what it would be like to occupy time and space there. In fact, sometimes a visit to such a place is a let down, as it is difficult for reality to measure up to the glowing imagination of the human mind.
Many of these places are famous, and justly so. But, occasionally, we are struck by an unfamiliar image that stirs us just as deeply. I was watching the 2011 movie Samsara, which I wholeheartedly recommend, when I was blindsided by images of houses invaded by the desert, filled knee deep with sand. There are so many profound images in Samsara, but this one haunted me desperately. I had to know its name.
I am fond of the desert, having traveled quite a bit in the American Southwest, especially Utah. It has been said that all deserts are one in the imagination, and I think that is essentially true. Love for one desert translates quite easily into love for another. It’s a harsh environment and one that requires respect to ensure survival. If we could drop the CEOs of large corporations into such places for a few days without outside aid, I think we would have a revolution in the way we treat the earth. Life in the desert is too fragile to waste, resources too valuable.
Kolmanskop, or Coleman’s Hill in Afrikaans, is an abandoned mining village in the Namib desert of southern Namibia, just 10 kilometers, 6.2 miles, from the port city Lüderitz. It was named for Johnny Coleman, a transport driver who found himself marooned in a fearful sandstorm and abandoned his ox wagon here.
In 1908, a railway worker by the name of Zacharias Lewala found a shiny rock resting on the sand and showed it to his supervisor, the German railway inspector August Stauch. The shiny stone turned out to be a diamond. German miners flocked to the area and a large portion of desert was declared Sperrgebiet, or prohibited area. The famed mining company DeBeers, who ran the mines in the area, had strict rules, one of which was that equipment or vehicles that entered their facilities were never allowed to leave. Most of this area is still off limits to the public, with the exception of a National Park centered in Kolmanskop and run by Namib-DeBeers. The fame of the Sperrgebiet is legendary. It is rumored that some miners would slide across the sand on their bellies, picking up dozens of diamonds as they slithered about.
In its day, Kolmanskop was incredibly wealthy and the residents used their money to recreate a German village in the savage African desert. For entertainment, there was a ballroom, theater, sport hall, bowling alley and casino. The tiny town possessed its own power station, school, ice factory and hospital. It was the location of the first x-ray station in the southern hemisphere and the first tram in Africa. Despite its glory, purchased with resources purloined from the earth and from local people who saw little benefit, the life of Kolmanskop was brief. After World War I the diamonds began to peter out and it was too expensive to keep things going here. Kolmanskop was empty by 1954. The ghost town has been reclaimed by the desert, sandstorms invading the structures and creating an eerie scene.
There is something powerful about things buried in the desert, mummified, arrested and yet not rotting. In a more humid climate, they would be assimilated back into the soil, but here they remain preserved, a warning and a reminder to the human race. Although we think ourselves important, we too will die and become a riddle to the future.