IN AWE OF SYMBIOSIS
July 20th, 2020
by Alia Wilhelm
Maybe because I took these photos, the main thing I think about when I look through them isn't the actual images, but what it says about me that I chose to capture what I did. I don't like the word "capture", and I've been more acutely aware of the violent, predatory vocabulary central to the art form since reading Susan Sontag's collection of essays, "On Photography". It feels profoundly wrong to equate taking a photo with having ownership over the person or space you've caught on camera, but Sontag argues, "To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed." I think because our relationship with the environment is already so fraught with notions of possession - we judge a piece of land's worth based on the self-centred use we can get from it - I especially hesitate to use the word "capture" here, considering most of the photographs I've taken are of flowers, trees and the sky. I own none of these things, and I am lucky to be a witness to their beauty, but maybe I have violated them in some way by storing them on a roll of film and sharing them here now.
Ironically enough, even though I probably spent more time inside these past few months than I would have without government-mandated lockdown, my relationship with the outdoors feels more loving and respectful than it used to. That's what strikes me most as I look through these images: I can see that the person who took them was moved by sun and the birds. Then again, if I'm looking at images of nature and remembering how much it brought me during uncertain, emotional times, I guess I'm still thinking about the environment in selfish terms, defining its worth by the therapeutic value it held for me. But during long walks this spring, I often stopped feeling apart from nature, and not like a separate entity or an enamoured witness making her way through the landscape, but almost like some kind of big leaf on legs. It's that feeling I remember most vividly when I look through these digitised recreations now, and I miss it very much now that I'm back in the city. You don't get that kind of awe for symbiosis when you're walking through concrete!
Alia Wilhelm is a Nearness co-founder. She works as a multimedia artist and director's assistant in London. You can follow her @aliiiiia and check out her work at www.aliawilhelm.com