Sean Wyatt

Above: An image from a recent series of photos by Sean Wyatt. Credit: Sean Wyatt.

Notes for Sean

Notes for Sean on night photos. As usual Sean you are a natural image-maker with this series. I feel very familiar by now with the area of woodland where the pictures have been made. The photos remind me of the scene from the beginning of Blue Velvet where Jeffrey finds a human ear in the undergrowth of the meadow near his home. They also put me in mind of police evidence photographs of course. The darkness of the pictures recall photos by Richard Misrach and William Klein--I also did a book called Point and Shoot with many dark photos in it. For me the strength of these images is in the way that the natural elements--grasses, ferns, roots etc.--form complex grids that are interwoven, undulating, spiked, and patterned. The context of this natural tapestry always remains as important as the objects at the centre of the images.

The abandoned objects are cast-adrift, forgotten, unwanted, as Walter Benjamin talked about when describing Atget's work. Or one could think of the forlorn objects gathered from the streets of New York--like cigarette butts--by Irving Penn. Looking at the pictures the quality that strikes me is of the power of night to transform the most arbitrary and mundane litter into objects with a powerful assumed narrative--there seems to be a story behind each of the objects, which is just out of reach. The subject matter of these unwanted things evidences certain activities; the images depict the detritus of drinking, having sex, etc. And just as there is in daily life, in these photos there is a taboo around the activities. The idea of a taboo is embodied in the darkness: the activities become clandestine, quite sordid--and suddenly exposed. The feeling in the photos is of the oppressiveness or undertow of night as claustrophobic and daunting--as in the poems of Charles Baudelaire.

Also it must not be overlooked that the objects are all examples of littering, the people who left these things behind don't care about damage to the environment in that way, they just leave what they need to leave behind. So the photos are evidence, at first, of an anti-social act, and beyond that a narrative that could be violence, rape, or even murder. For me there is a chilling beauty in these pictures--I have always been fascinated by crime scene photos--that is set in motion by reverse engineering the image before me: a man moving around in forest undergrowth at night. The man stops to take a picture and moves on, his activity is full of purpose but it remains unclear to the onlooker. At night in the forest every small detail can take on a haunting aspect--so that any object can become alarming or disturbing. Above all, the pictures seem to depict vital clues useful to the detective--as Benjamin, again, wrote, "isn't every street-corner the scene of a crime?"

(6 November 2019)