Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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Christopher Pryor
Complicated Landscapes (or Next Exit for the Charnel Ground)

It was an unusually cold day in June when I received the call. At the time, I had been looking out, through windows heavy with condensation, at our garden - mourning the toll that yet another frost had taken on the taro plants (the third frost in a week - I really shouldn’t have planted them in this climate).

The caller was a representative from the security company that monitors my father’s medical alarm.

My father had activated his alarm, I was told, but the company was unable to make contact with him - an ambulance had been dispatched, they assured me, and was already on its way. By the time I reached him, he was already safely in hospital.

My father remained in hospital for three weeks - and while it would take some time to learn the root cause of this latest emergency - he was able to recount, hazily, something of his ordeal…

He had collapsed inexplicably, he told me, some two days earlier - despite living on his own, he was not wearing his emergency alarm - and finding himself without the strength to get to his feet, it had taken him a full day and a half to crawl the 10 short metres it took to summons help. Dehydrated, soiled and cold (when I had been worried about the frost on the taro) the experience had left him deeply shaken and critically aware of his mortality. Forbidden from driving for 6 months by his doctors, my father was going to require my frequent support - and so, following his release from hospital, I began making weekly trips to spend time with the man for whom the word ‘belligerence’ (even in this most vulnerable condition) was coined for…

It’s an hour and a half drive from my place to my father’s - and to keep things interesting, I made it my aim, over those weeks and months, to take a different route each time. All those tantalising backroads and side roads - the black holes in my mind’s map of the region - were now there to be explored - a little reward to myself for what I’d anticipate to be bruising visits.

The roads I took form a network of by-ways across some of the most picturesque countryside I’ve come by - countryside however, that belies the cultural troubles of the recent past and ecological troubles of the present… To the right, swamplands that had been drained of their water and wildlife (and replaced by cows). To the left, Maori land, confiscated following the wars of colonisation. But then, as important as this all is, it’s hard to pay due attention to these things when I’m about to visit my father…

On one such trip however, I took a road that led me alongside a large lake - a lake I’d seen countless times from the distant expressway on the opposite shore, and which, until now, had felt mysteriously out of reach… So when, pulling over at a likely spot and seeing a path that led to the water’s edge, I could hardly refuse the invitation. The short track soon deteriorated into swampy ground before eventually arriving at a dense stand of trees. Here I encountered signage warning of the water’s ill health.

Over recent years I’ve been photographing the environs of Irishtown, Thames, a locality in the small, former gold-mining town I live in. Here, bordering the native bush, abounds a multitude of exotic trees and shrubs - many of them weed species - which are periodically destroyed by the council. Despite the concerted attempts of control, the vegetation, desirable and undesirable, thrives. A testament to the tenacity of life - the will of matter to self-organise…

But here, on a cold winter’s afternoon, on the shore of a hypertrophic lake, I feel I’ve entered a cemetery. Many of the trees are dead or dying - beaten and battered - some doubled over from halfway up (the effects of a tremendous wind?) I can’t help but think of a Tibetan charnel ground - an open-air cemetery, where, owing to the frozen ground, the dismembered body parts of the dead are left to lie out in the open - left to be devoured by wild animals or to rot gruesomely into oblivion. Here students of Buddhism are encouraged by their teachers to spend periods of time (at night!) in order to experience the truth of impermanence - and to allow adversity to awaken them to the true nature of things - whereby contentment, it’s thought, may be found in even the most uncomfortable and disagreeable of circumstances. On these matters Dzigar Kongtral Rinpoche writes:  “Peace comes about when the true nature of things out shines their appearance…” and that (with a wink perhaps to photographers?): “Looking leads to liberation”. So here, on the shore of a polluted lake, on the way to see my father, I wonder - could it be, that I too, needn’t be looking for a better place to be?

Christopher Pryor is an award-winning filmmaker based in Aotearoa/New Zealand. In 2017 Chris was a recipient of the Harriet Friedlander NYC artist residency, an opportunity which afforded him the time to rekindle and develop his interest in the potential of the still image. As a novice gardener, Chris continues to learn from his mistakes.