In our ongoing series, six photographers provide work answering to a single word. Including text and work by Guy Tillim, Pixy Liao, Jack Latham and others, the images act as both question and answer to the concept of Habitat
Habitat is home. It is a word we most commonly associate with wildlife rather than humans, yet is an environment that we share. But habitats, homes, and safe spaces can be found in places outside of the familiar domestic interior. For some, the desired habitat is a far cry from their current home.
In the months since the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, our habitat has been broken down, remade and recontextualised. Social environments such as bars, clubs, libraries and museums have been removed from daily life.
From those isolating in quarantine hotel rooms to those learning to work from home, the spaces we exist in have shifted, in turn, shifting us. Reflections of identity can be found in one’s surroundings, yet sometimes these surroundings create unease and hostility. Aside from the virus, this habitat is under attack from the ongoing climate crisis. Natural ecosystems disappear at unprecedented rates, animal extinction continues, and both human and wildlife displacement can be seen across the world. Habitats are not only lost, but stolen.
Home may be where the heart is, but the habitat houses the body, venturing between safety to danger, love to hate, sickness to health. The habitat can be external and internal, a refuge or an aggressor. We asked five photographers to share an image that they connected with habitat, with thoughts from Anastasia Samoylova, Pixy Liao, George Selley, Jack Latham and Guy Tillim.
“In the shimmery water of Cape Romano, on Florida’s west coast, stands this ruin of a fantasy vacation house, built by an oil magnate in the 1980s. It was constructed on land, with a large setback from the shore. It is now being increasingly claimed by the water and is only accessible by boat. Looking like a surreal creature from a Dali painting, the structure is a stark sign of the ever-shifting landscape. Hurricane Irma took out two of the six domes in 2017. They now serve as an artificial reef for fish and mollusks. The remaining domes are peppered with migratory birds using them as a landing point. With its sci-fi silhouette the structure went from being an oil-producer’s retreat to a home for Florida’s abundant marine wildlife in a fragile ecosystem.”
“This photo was taken last year when we visited my partner Moro’s home. His family lives in the middle of a mountain in Japan. To walk to his home, one needs to climb up the mountain from the stairs. This photo was taken at the end of the stairs. His hometown is so different from any place I have lived before. It’s just right on the mountain, in nature. I miss the time so much especially right now, after self-quarantine in my Brooklyn apartment for more than half a year. What do we really need as humans? Do we really need to occupy so much space on the earth? Or could we just somehow blend in?’
“It was a way to spend the days, walking with a camera in these places. My plan was to try to let the place speak through me, as it were, or, in other words, to let it speak for itself. To my mind this meant looking for some kind of equality of the elements that I was looking at through the camera – the sea, the mountain, the palms. Not to trade in cliches, or to say too emphatically what was photographed. I’m not sure to what extent I’ve been successful, it’s hard to say. I remember one day I thought I’d got it, I felt like I was walking on air. I keep all the images on a drive and you can see there’s this moment when I start photographing everything – the side of the road, a flower, a mountain, there seems to be suddenly no sense or sequence to what I’m doing. There are photos of the side of the road, sometimes with a telephone pole importantly sidelined, that had felt so meaningful to me, then.”
“Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been taking images of the sky from the window of my flat. This image is one of them. It has been uploaded and interpreted by a Google image recognition software. The programme is called DeepDream, and is effectively asked not, ‘What does this image show?’, but, ‘What does it want to see in it?’ The programme churns out a result based on the millions of labelled images it has been fed. In this way it could be seen as a representation of our virtual habitat; a spokesman for our shared digital vision, or as James Bridle says, an “illumination of our own unconscious”.Habitat can be external and internal, and as we’re forced to stay inside our homes it also becomes increasingly virtual. When I look at this image, I see the way in which our virtual habitat has a tendency to create a sense of confusion and overwhelmingness, to exaggerate and overload. What role do images play within this process?This image has been uploaded, interpreted, downloaded, edited, re-uploaded, re-downloaded, edited, printed, scanned, edited, compressed, and uploaded onto thiswebpage. It now sits on your screen [and this page]. This process seems very relevant to the paths and journeys that images endlessly travel in our networked world, spreading hate, beauty, paranoia and hope.”
“For the first time in a generation we have been asked to stay at home, amongst our possessions and live with the objects we have gathered. I’m certain I’m not alone when looking at the artifacts I’ve accrued and questioning, what is the relevance of these things now?Collected concert ticket stubs have turned into something that more resembles betamax tapes, than a contemporary way to share music. Boxes of research and archiving that all seemed so important are now just occupying space. Or perhaps the issue is that we are now occupying the space with them?As someone who spends a tremendous amount of time looking away from home to find inspiration, I’ve found solace in the flotsam of my environment. A personalised museum of events and memories that I’ve often been too busy with work to have noticed. They say you can tell a lot about the owner of a room by the items that occupy it, and if nothing else, I’m enjoying the process of rediscovery during my time inside.This image was taken in Camp Meeker in California. It is the home of activist Mary Moore who since the 1970’s has been protesting the ‘Bohemian Grove.'”
Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.