“In photographing “place” we are never just photographing nature. We are always photographing culture.” – Gerry Badger
In 1975 a photographic exhibition entitled, ”The New Topographics” opened in New York and essentially re-wrote landscape photography. The show consisted of 168 rigorously formal, black and white prints of streets, warehouses, industrial sites and suburban houses. In many ways, it was an outright reaction to the idealized landscape photography dominated by the likes of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. Fundamentally, however, its stark images set out to show the growing unease of how the natural landscape was being eroded by development and the spread of cities and industry.
Fast-forward 4 decades and throughout the world, cities, once the industrial capitals of their nations, are shrinking as Mother Nature returns. She climbs the curbs and cracks the tarmac; blows down walls and rusts the fence posts. The unease, this time around, is the reduction of man, of the man-made, and it is no more or no less disquieting.
In her first solo exhibition, Zimbabwean-based photographer Nicola Ash, gently confronts the viewer with this unnerving view, a journey through time in her current home-town, focusing almost entirely on Bulawayo’s rail industry, it’s legacy past and present. What led to such despoliation in the “City of Kings”? Is Bulawayo yet another post-industrial archetype consigned to the pages of history? Despite an overwhelming sense of resignation, hope appears to have miraculously survived, but it is no substitute for action.
The journey proffered is neither nostalgic nor sentimental, nor is it in any way judgemental. Photographs are complemented by extracts of poetry as well as items from the Bulawayo Railway Museum and the message reveals itself gradually Simple, often abstract images of yards and machinery are cut through with a number of large-scale portraits of local elderly residents. A reminder that this is essentially a journey of self, not merely place.
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