Yurie Nagashima, Alexandra Von Fuerst, Robert Darch and others respond to the concept of agency through image and text, as part of our ongoing series Picture This
The ability to choose, to say no, to act up, is a power in itself. Agency over our actions is a human necessity, yet external forces can strip us of the ability to self determine.
It can be difficult to see one’s own agency in the world. Actions can be decided without us, voices can go unheard. When we make decisions, we can choose to listen and give agency to others. Historically in photography the image maker has held the agency, as they are the one who can edit, manipulate, and decide.
Agency can be seen as individuality in motion, yet it is not always a simple path. Once power has been found, we need agency to do something with it. Who do we help? What do we change? What do we maintain? If we are our choices, agency is when we decide who we want to be, as well as who we will become. If agency is free will in action, how free are you?
We asked six photographers to respond to the theme of Agency with image and text. Below, Yurie Nagashima, Tania Franco Klein, Alexandra Von Fuerst, Liza Ambrossio, Tshepiso Moropa and Robert Darch present their responses.
Alexandra Von Fuerst
Godification of Intimacy
“I started paying attention to the concept of consent in 2018 while spending some time on holistic studies in Thailand. I participated in a workshop that brought traumas of a patriarchal society and its impact on the human body to the surface. Traumas are often hidden, and memories are unreliable as we forget the origin of the happening in the first place. In that moment, at the age of 25, I found myself properly working through the pain of emotional abuse. I decided to take the experience of healing I had learned, and wanted to communicate it to others and ease their own understanding of repressed sexual anger and pain. Deepening the knowledge on psychological traumas through studies on the eastern teachings on consciousness, I came across the ancient Vedic culture of India expanded by an involvement in the shamanic tradition of Mexico, representing a widely influential starting point to my current series of photographs entitled Godification of Intimacy. The project, shot in Mexico City in 2021, honours the feminine as the hearth of the divine teachings, passed along nature into a universal and day to day experience of awareness. Consent represents the right to own our bodies, as well as the right to express them shamelessly as part of a sensual experience to the divine. The body, expressed in its whole sacrality, is a vehicle of understanding to the outer world. Focusing on the act of asking for permission, it is in my opinion a responsibility to educate society on the choices of a healthy sexual and emotional relationship to the body and its boundaries. A very special thank you goes to the model of the image, Mexican artist and active feminist Effie Villagomez, who allowed me to work with her on this special series.”
“I believe that there is a difference between a good portrait and a portrait with a good looking person.”
There’s no one here
“I explore themes of belonging, identity, sexuality and the potential of power or agency within my work. I do this by juxtaposing the self to the idea of the self – taking into consideration social standards and various identities in order to create and represent widely imaginative new guises.”
“For a long time, my practice has addressed the idea of agency and what that represents in today’s world. I constantly wonder, in this so-called “free world,” how much of the things we “freely” do and “freely” want are actually our own, or in reality just a social construction that allows for a certain system of ideas and goals to keep feeding itself.
We are constantly bombarded by the media, and that overexposure shapes our thinking and our identity. This makes our agency shift around its own personal agenda, which usually all tracks back to whatever is good for the economy. Usually disguised by slogans like “yes you can” and “keep walking,” we are taught to want certain things, to over perform, to always want to be the best version of ourselves. Where does that leave the idea of the agency if we are taught to use it for that purpose?
One of my favorite pieces by Jenny Holzer says “PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT.” I always felt very compelled and moved by that thought. So in a way, the characters in my photographs are always trying to escape. To escape themselves, to escape what they were taught to want and to pursue. I suppose, in a bigger search of what their real agency is.”
“The spores of the fungus are carried on the wind, travelling for miles, silent and unseen, looking for a host. They fall from the sky, first sticking to the leaves and then penetrating deep inside the tree. Once colonised, the fungus grows inside the tree blocking its water transport systems and eventually causing the tree to die. The Fungus which causes ash dieback originated in Asia, where the native species are resistant to the disease. The first recorded case of the fungus here in the UK was in 2006, having made its way to Europe on imported trees. Since then the disease has slowly been spreading and evidence of dieback can now be seen across Britain. However, we are only at the beginning of the epidemic and it is estimated that over the next ten years ash dieback will eventually kill around 80 per cent of ash trees in the UK.
The Ash Tree is one of the most common trees in the United Kingdom. Their loss will be devastating for habitats and the natural environment, and it is predicted to cost £15 billion to manage the dieback.
For the last eight months I have been making work as part of a commission by the Devon Wildlife Trust, Beaford Arts and multiple agencies to make an artistic response to ash dieback.
The dieback has to be managed and controlled, with trees felled to protect the public before they collapse and fall. This last year has shown us that the relationship between humans and the natural world feels like it is at a tipping point. Covid-19, the climate crisis, and globalisation are all manifestations of our destructive presence on the earth.”
This image was taken in the Exmoor National Park at Watersmeet Valley with the National Trust.
“All my life I have been busy developing a work-life, a life-work with the wish to dissect what in psychology and philosophy is called a sense of agency; an intentionality, security, and subjective awareness that I am myself, and that there is no one nor anything else controlling the actions that make my personality. It is a stratum very close to the state of responsibility for my own history, my life and possibly even my future death.
I am speaking about a state of consciousness so deep that it has tattooed a style in my writing and images that emerge from my imagination, coming from a complex equation where mind, body and matter represent the work. My personal universe was gestated in the desire to understand the psychic status of my family nucleus, with whom I developed most of my childhood; it was like a ghetto, so attached to magic, religion and mental illness, that possibly it was more complex for me to settle on a parameter of reality, normality and health, than to discover that it is possible to live in a state of lucid psychosis, without looking to be absolutely crazy.”
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.