Human Presence Research

Human Presence

the immediate proximity of a person’

I find that photography that suggests something is more engaging than more obvious images. If something is suggested, its up to the viewer to work out what that thing is. Having the humans that are pivotal to the understanding of the image in the frame makes people reach the photographers horizon much easier, but if they are absent, the viewer gets a sense of them. This sense adds mystery to the image which can be argued to make it more visually striking.

Human Absence 

‘failure to attend or appear when expected.’

In these images people will expect someone to be in the frame, or understand that someone was once in the place that was photographed. This absence is forever captured in the frame, so the element of mystery is forever strong.

The key for the photographer is:

To challenge
To ask questions
To involve
To allow a more subjective reading
To move away from the utilitarian

Less is or more in photography; utilitarian images give people what they want, but it doesn’t provoke much remembrance or reaction. Photography needs to show less to allow people to be subjective in their reading of the image, then they will be able to be active in their experience.


Here are some photographers who’ve had an effect on my understanding of Human Presence

Lisa Barnard

Barnard’s photobook ‘chateau despair’ is a project taken inside the abandoned Conservative party headquarters at 32 Smith Square. The place became known as Chateau Despair, a castle abandoned from the absence of its inhabitants after it was closed down in 2004as the conservative party moved to Victoria Street. Barnard visited the space and captured it. The campaigns of all the conservatives in the past years (especially Thatcher) etched into the walls, echoing the despair of the past. You read the book noticing the absence and see the scares of the past which show the place negatively. Barnard wasn’t a fan of Thatcher and her policies and these peeled corporate blue walls reflect the nations anger during that period. Old decaying posters of Thatcher we found in a party cupboard which appear frequently throughout the book, each with a different amount of mould on. It really gives of the feelings of the nation, and turns a once impressive interior into walls filled with hatred and despair. 

tn_1_chateau-spread1 tn_1_chateau-spread2

Paul Graham (Troubled Land)

Paul Graham challenged the idea that all serious photography was in black and white. His colour images in irish project troubled land reflects irish history subtly and subjectively. He photographs landscapes that hint at the trouble that once appeared on the land. The images depict these troubles in a serious but beautiful way.

‘On 30 January 1972, soldiers from the British Army’s 1st Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed civilian demonstrators in Derry. Thirteen people were killed and a similar number were wounded. The march, which was called to protest internment, was illegal according to the British authorities and the government-appointed Widgery Tribunal exonerated the soldiers of any guilt. After mounting pressure on both sides of the Irish Sea, an official inquiry into what actually happened that day was opened in 1998 under the custody of Lord Saville. It continues even now, more than thirty years after the shootings. Alongside the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, Enniskillen and Omagh, the tragedy of Bloody Sunday has come to be seen as a defining moment in the history of the Troubles.’

12 years after bloody sunday, Graham returned to photograph the effect its left on the landscape. Even though there is a normality to the images, in each image you can see something that reveals how that landscape has been altered and you begin to picture what happened and who it happened too. This project is a perfect example of human presence because as well as Barnard’s work, the location has effected a lot of peoples lives negatively and the photographs represent the troubles but don’t show them, they just subjectively suggest them.

Roundabout, Andersonstown, Belfast 1984, printed 1993-4 by Paul Graham born 1956 Union Jack Flag in Tree, County Tyrone 1985, printed 1993-4 by Paul Graham born 1956

Leon Kirchlechner

German photographer Kirchlechner’s book ‘Nowhere’ presents landscapes unexplained, titling them as nowhere. The dark and forbidding interiors provoke mystery and adds suspicion on why they exist. These ambiguous locations are scared with indents of people who have once been there. Even though you know people have once inhabited these spaces, you question who. Considering the context, you wouldn’t think many people have explored to the walls in which the photographs echo as they are nowhere.

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Paul Gaffney

‘Over the past year I have walked over 3,500 kilometres with the aim of creating a body of work which explores the idea of walking as a form of meditation. My intention has been to create a series of quiet, meditative images, which would evoke the experience of being immersed in nature and capture the essence of the journey. The images seek to engage the viewer in this walk, and to communicate a sense of the subtle internal and psychological changes which one may undergo while negotiating the landscape.’

The images are utterly beautiful. They make us share in the experience of the photographer in a dream like quality. We indulge ourselves within the pages of the book and visualise what it was like to walk 3,500km. We see it as a form of meditation because of the splendour of each image, the paths he creates that few have ventured along. It feels like its a path made by Gaffney and he’s sharing it with us and showing where he’s gone without showing himself. To share in an experience brings in our own presence, but we also share his journey and picture him there as a guide; the images speak his presence to us. An alluring project that works well for this study of human presence.

paul_gaffney__slider paul_gaffney-we_make_the_path_by_walking_5


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