The study of life outside of our own is an activity which has entranced many, often emblematic of eliciting a insatiable wonder, or an abject attempt to ‘know’. Human understandings of animal life, and the possibility of ‘other life’, that boundary of unknown scope and content procures a kind of thinking about the extension of biology, and biologies, and even the hopeful extension of our own race.
Phenomena is a publication created by Danish photography collective comprising of Sara Galbiati, Peter Helles Eriksen and Tobias Selnaes Markussen. The trio have stated that they wish to dismantle the concept of the auteur photographer, aiming to present the project as the work of a group. This sentiment echoes throughout, with the study portraying the material with no distinct way to differentiate the work of one photographer from another.
Started and funded via Kickstarter, the project confronts conceptions of ‘deep life’; that is to be defined as life beyond borders, realms, and human eyes. The infiniteness of space which to us perhaps to our networked world can sometimes seem small, is enlarged, engorged and infinite. Centring upon sixteen first person portraits and narratives to convey a personal sense of this topic, these subjects presented are all North American, presenting varying degrees of curiosity, fear, and wonder.
The enveloping cocoon of the modern city, where most of us live, often seems so situational. We get lost in the blanket of cultural space and urban dominance, seeing the outside world through screens and mediated experiences. Phenomena takes us to the outskirts of towns and to the fringes of modern society, to eyes that are watching the skies outside the glare of bright lights.
Human obsession with extraterrestrial possibilities are relatable to by most. Members of my immediate family were entranced by the possibility of life outside our own, my childhood memories included squinting down domestic telescopes, trips to the observatory and the arrival of interesting serial magazines, documenting what was ‘out there’. As a child of the 90s, the popularity of The X-Files and re-runs of The Twilight Zone were always playing in the background. The introduction of high-speed networked technologies such as the internet, telecommunication and high speed aircraft and trains further propelled thought towards the human quest for discovery of possible life.
Phenomena explores this enduring interest through multiple voices and perspectives. Those who are taken by such a possibility seem to be so engrossed, and we revel in the beauty of such an enlightened obsession. Phenomena seeks to provide not an answer, but breadth to the ultimate question – documenting a biology that cannot be seen, told through those who are aiming to find out.
The success of the book lies in the complex notions of space presented – the photographic elements portraying solid visual depictions of subjects alongside their own textual narrative, describing other moments in time and space which transport the reader quite vividly to an atmosphere not depicted visually.
A human narrative combined with photographic ‘evidence’ is exemplified so well in photo-books such as Murray Ballard’s The Prospect of Immortality and Taryn Simon’s American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. This genre of photobook presents a kind of investigative journalism that combines pseudo-science, official reports and the work of outsider individuals, all caught up in the passion of the cause. Arguably a new kind of history, these works revel in showcasing the amateur scientist, historian, witness, and give credence to their thoughts.
Photography gives us a distinct visual angle of human story and alongside verbal narratives, contextualising the complexity of any given subject. Simon’s American Index focused on presenting the unknown surrounding ‘known’ or ‘official’ government and private bureaucracies – presenting information and evidence through staged photographs inside the structures mentioned. Murray Ballard and Phenomena authors’ body of work worked to reveal the difference between ‘official’ industries surrounding the fields of cryogenics and alien studies – and the research and interest at a grassroots, ‘local’ level, showing the intricacies prevalent in frontiers of knowledge as yet uncovered or unexplained.
It is Phenomena’s decentralization of the narrative set out by the anti-auteur photographers that draws this work apart. By blanketing their collective under the label Kompleks, the book itself as authored by many and thus it belongs to its subjects as much as its creators.
Phenomena is published by André Frère Éditions and available for purchase at: phenomenabook.com
1. “Phenomena: Sara Galbiati, Peter Helles Eriksen and Tobias Selnaes Markussen” http://www.andrefrereditions.com/en/books/photography/phenomena/ accessed August 5th, 2017.
2. “Phenomena: A photobook about UFO and alien encounters” by Phenomena Collective; https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/phenomena/phenomena-a-photobook-about-ufo-and-alien-encounte accessed August 7th, 2017.