Daylight Ghosts conjures the mysterious power of photography to evoke what is hidden and refuses the satisfaction we call ‘insight’.
Lurie’s images are not a document of his 6-week residency at NIROX Foundation, in the Cradle of Humankind, but a love-song scripted photographically. One imagines oneself connected to the environment which contains us, and yet, gnawing at the edges of our imagined composure is the unsettling sensation that our being in the world is both fleeting and vulnerable. ‘How to capture this perspective in landscape photographs in this achingly beautiful region’, Lurie asks. ‘How to excavate below our conventional sight level to recover the views of myth and memory that lie beneath a surface that conceals more than it reveals, given the … limitations of the medium?”
Forests, Kromdraai Valley
Lurie’s images hark back to the picturesque, which remains central to our pictorial imagination, though not convinced that this convention can truly bind us to our ‘viewed’ world. This is because the artist possesses a keenly contrary sense that the eye and I – the machines for seeing and being – are ’achingly’ delusory. Nevertheless, Lurie holds fast to the residue. Simon Schama – who Lurie references in the preface to Daylight Ghosts – notes that ‘Even the landscapes that we suppose to be most free of our culture may turn out, on closer inspection, to be its product … and this is a cause not for guilt and sorrow but celebration’: Schama thus asks us to enshrine a sense of joy which stems from the shredded grasp of history. It is human intervention within and upon the land which, we are reminded, allows for the apprehension of our ghostly presence.
British fortification, built during the Anglo-Boer War
For Schama, our lives can only be understood in passing, in fragments. John Fowles, however, takes a very different view. ‘What I gain from nature is beyond words’, he paradoxically writes. ‘To try to capture it verbally immediately places me in the same boat as the namers and would-be owners of nature: that is, it exiles me from what I most need to learn’. One realises here that there are too many barriers, too many filters, which obstruct a human being’s capacity to instantaneously exist and think upon that existence. As for photography? It is perhaps an even more inconsolable means through which to access what must be learnt in-and-through nature.
Lurie, however, does not aspire to transforming the seen, or the scene; nor does he imagine the act of photography as something neutral. Rather, the artist’s images are doctored testaments in which the viewer breathes the unresolved and immanent moment. Sonorous rather than elegiac, sure-footed rather than transcendent, his images offer us a momentary tethering. For these are consoling images – fleeting portals, fonts, pools, in which we can allow ourselves to linger. They carry no portentous meaning, no burdensome gravity. They do not expect us to arrive at any definable conclusions. Therein, rather, history, myth, memory, is a rune.
Ashraf Jamal is a writer, editor, and teacher at CPUT and a research associate at U.J. His recent publications are Robin Rhode: The Geometry of Colour, and In the World: Essays on Contemporary South African Art. Both books are published by SKIRA.