A rainbow. A ghostly figure on a stage. A face both gazing at and dissolving into the ocean. An empty-faced crowd. A heap of broken images.

“A heap of broken images,” was one of the first lines that struck the artist Gregory Eddi Jones when reading The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot’s poem born of the destruction and desolation of the First World War. It is a striking visual for our image-obsessed world. This “heap of broken images” is a meta commentary on modernism, loss, and the poem itself. It is also a fitting entry point to Jones’ own kaleidoscopic project, Promise Land, a post-photographic body of work that functions as a contemporary visual update to the poem and an exploration of what photography can do today. Jones’ images storm across the spectrum of the medium, devouring the advertising tropes of stock images, with nods to surrealism and the banality of the everyday, rendered in saccharine color washes and haunted by brooding shadows.

Suns Set © Gregory Eddi Jones

The Waste Land, one of the most important modernist works of the twentieth century, feels particularly relevant these past few years, a century after its publication. In grappling with a changed world, racked by war and a deadly pandemic, Eliot’s words resonated with Jones. His work creates a bridge between the past and present—deeply changed worlds searching for meaning whilst understanding that the broken pieces might never mend.

The Philosopher © Gregory Eddi Jones

It is in these broken pieces that Jones finds inspiration, splicing and stitching together open narrative possibilities from a wreckage of vacuous commercial imagery. In the past images held weight, deeply embedded with myth and meaning. Since visual culture became a unifying global force, it is tinged by an aura of empty promises. Though belonging to its own era of destruction, Eliot’s disjointed structure, far ranging mythological references and shifting voices are well suited to our fragmented present.

Developing these elements into his own unique language, Jones’ fusing of digital and analog manipulations mirrors the distortions of our time. “Photography is a medium with a baggage of expectation and truth. At the same time photography is the active pursuit of paradise,” he says. “Just about every image we see tries to present a world that is cleaner, more orderly and beautiful than the one we experience.”

Mimira © Gregory Eddi Jones

Jones frames his working method as “un-photographing”. He considers stock photography a baseline visual culture, a glowed-up contemporary mythology. Stock photographs present shared experiences and concepts about modern life, the human complications and mess tidied out of frame. Appropriating these types of photographs, Jones digitally manipulates and composites the images before printing them on non-absorbent papers, allowing the inks to bleed and dry, reworking and scanning them back into digital form afterwards.

The Proposal © Gregory Eddi Jones

In Helen Going Home, disembodied eyes and lips float free almost escaping their human form. The eyes could almost be mistaken for those of birds, the ocean’s pink watery tones reminiscent of flesh. In The Storyteller a shadow appears in a spotlight as if on stage, seated, about to address a mysterious audience. He describes his process as “a way to take a very cold set of tools and inject my own warmth into them, working in a stream of consciousness, allowing my imagination to become a large part of the work.” Through these built up layers of digital and analog mark making, Jones is “undoing what our expectations of photography are, and using photographic tools to reflect on the post truth condition we live in.”

The Storyteller © Gregory Eddi Jones

Tracing meaning through the work of other artists, poets and stock photographers alike, Jones believes in the importance of reinvention and experimentation. Promise Land exists in multiple forms; from a photobook whose five sections mirror those of The Waste Land to a kaleidoscopic physical installation at Festival Images Vevey and an immersive virtual exhibition on New Art City where one can float through the space, as birds chirping, bleach ads, and lines from the poem act as a sonic backdrop.

Janus Horse in Motion © Gregory Eddi Jones

The banality of Jones’ source material, devoid of spiritual heft, is taken not at face value. Rather, he sees the images as building blocks. Bombarded with glossy views, constantly sold realities that don’t exist, we keep scrolling, consuming. Promise Land distorts these shaky paradises, dismantling the vapid unrealities that mass media feeds us, stretching them into something both damning and deeper, playful and strange, and ultimately something far more real. Years prior to this project Jones described his desire in photography as, “trying to rip a hole in what we expect the medium to be and turning it inside out.” In Promise Land, he takes a pile of images and, in breaking and rebuilding them, creates an epic of his own.