“We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical.”

 

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There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.

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Text: Outer Limits, opening narration.

Pics: “Luminant Point Arrays is a photographic series of old tube televisions taken at the very moment they are switched off. The TV picture breaks down and is abstracted to its essential element: light. This abstraction also results in the collapse of the external reference. Each of these photographs is from a different TV, but it’s also the length of exposure, timing, and time the TV has been running before the photo is taken that affects the results.” – Stephen Tillmans, Leuchtpunktordnungen. 

Bleached Tones and Bright Lights

“A sense of the uncanny also appears in the voyeuristic angles and subtle compositional discord. An eeriness therefore lingers in the atmosphere of the exhibition, with its associations with JG Ballard, David Lynch, surveillance, and even Lana Del Rey. This is a city, Ruscha’s photographs and paintings seem to say, where bad things happen, and where secrets are kept. The bleached tones and bright lights give the impression of concealment; the surfaces are too clean to be real, and the scenes too empty to be lifelike.  This Hollywood is so reduced and abstracted that a sense of death permeates, in the two-dimensional, impossible landscapes and the sidewalks without footprints.

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“Ruscha pays homage to JG Ballard in particular, quoting from his novel High-Rise (1975) in the largescale work, The Music from the Balconies (1984). In Ballard’s dystopian novel, the inhabitants of a high-rise apartment block descend into chaos and primal urges, communicating a rather bleak vision of human nature. In Ruscha’s painting, a quote from High-Rise overlays an otherwise serene landscape, creating discord in that act itself, and so reinforcing the meaning of the words: “The music from the balconies nearby was overlaid by the noise of sporadic acts of violence.” With this careful, deadpanexecution, Ruscha’s work also recalls the writing of Bret Easton Ellis, particularly his Los Angeles-based debut Less Than Zero, which was written at around the same time this work was created and was itself inspired by Andy Warhol’s experimental 1968 novel A: A Novel. Both Ruscha and Ellis, in the tradition of Ballard and Warhol, seem to have captured a similar atmosphere, and zeitgeist even, in their observations of LA in the mid-80s…”

Text: Music From The Balconies – Ed Ruscha and Los Angeles, Studio International.

Pic: Ed Ruscha, Nine swimming pools and a broken glass, 1968.

The Obvious

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“It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?”
― Isaac Asimov, I, Robot

Pic: Bill E. Lytton, Red Telephone Box, from the series London Tourism, 2012. Created by layering thousands of tourist photos of typical London sites.

Around The Sun

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“I myself have dreamed up a structure intermediate between Dyson spheres and planets. Build a ring 93 million miles in radius – one Earth orbit – around the sun. If we have the mass of Jupiter to work with, and if we make it a thousand miles wide, we get a thickness of about a thousand feet for the base. And it has advantages. The Ringworld will be much sturdier than a Dyson sphere. We can spin it on its axis for gravity. A rotation speed of 770 m/s will give us a gravity of one Earth normal. We wouldn’t even need to roof it over. Place walls one thousand miles high at each edge, facing the sun. Very little air will leak over the edges. Lord knows the thing is roomy enough. With three million times the surface area of the Earth, it will be some time before anyone complains of the crowding.”
Text: Larry Niven, Ringworld.
Pics: Aydin Buyuktas, Flatland.

Saturated In Neon

“Can there be a science fiction photography? This is not a question critics working in the field of the fantastic have ever asked, as far as I’m aware, even though the conception of the visual cultures of sf has been continually expanding, through comics, cinema, animation, and computer gaming. There has been some attention paid to painterly modes of fantasy, the kitsch art of the sf pulps, and the vernacular modes of futuristic architecture (from New York skyscrapers to streamline deco to space age design) , but I have found virtually no commentary on the relations of sf and photography…

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“The most science fictional of […] photographers, in my view, is the British artist Dan Holdsworth. Holdsworth openly deploys the traditional iconography of the sublime. The World in Itself is a series of images of the glacial landscapes of Iceland, territories of ice and rock that are aeons older than the first human settlements on Iceland and which come closest to alien landscapes on earth. Holdsworth has talked about these landscapes in the same sort of multi-temporal terms I’ve been outlining here: these images, he suggests, explore “the nature of the archaic in contemporary society and how that manifests itself” . But more typically, Holdsworth investigates the frontiers where the natural and the technological force a reconfiguring of the sublime. In one of the images for A Machine for Living, Holdsworth invokes the classic iconography of the sublime cliff, but replaces the lone Caspar David Friedrich figure at the summit with an electricity pylon, the power lines containing the chasm beneath. Elsewhere, in a series called At the Edge of Space, Holdsworth explored the strange territories of the European Space Station in French Guyana. He has also documented closed scientific environments that are baffled against the intrusion of sound and abolish echo. His most emblematic series, though, are the images he takes at night of human developments on the edges of cities. A Machine for Living includes night-time images of the empty networks of car-parks and roadways, saturated in neon. Megalith, an iconic Holdsworth image, is a long night-time exposure of a motorway advertising gantry – yet the title suggests some gnomic object of an advanced civilisation from a tale by Arthur C. Clarke. It stands over the terrain like a Wellsian tripod. Holdsworth never works inside cities, but at the suburban edges where develop- ments run into older, natural landscapes and create odd hybrid territories which feel deeply uncanny. He never photographs human beings in these images, and it is as if, at night, and through the magic of long exposures that reveal more than the unaided human eye, these new terrains reveal their truly alien nature.

“Given Holdsworth’s 1998 series Autopia, night scenes of empty motorway architectures, it is unsurprising to find critics reaching for J. G. Ballard’s title, Myths of the Near Future, when trying to explain the weirdness of these images. “The transformative mechanism of the camera allows Holdsworth to project those imprints into the near future, to the edges of our aspiration and into our unconscious ‘inner space”‘ . Ballard’s iconography is full of striking images of future ruins, rusting space technologies, and poisoned nuclear test grounds. Angus Carlyle has argued that Holdsworth is using the iconography of the sublime to photograph a second nature, places that are “dizzying grey zones [where] uncertainty opens up, the ideas of nature and culture find themselves suddenly stuck by provisionalising apostrophes” (43). We might also reach for Bruno La tour’s language of tangled objects or provisional assemblages to describe this sublime second nature.”

Text: Roger Luckhurst, “Contemporary Photography and the Technological Sublime, or, Can There Be a Science Fiction Photography?” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. Pocatello: 2008. Vol. 19, Iss. 2; pg. 181.

Image: Dan Holdsworth, Autopia 01, 1996. C-type print, 121×101 cm