"Out of Place" Madagascar
"Out of Place"
“Out of Place” is the result of feeling like an insider and outsider simultaneously. In this tenuous state, reality flip-flops, inanimate objects appear full of life, personality, and sometimes, humor; figure-ground relationships distort, and cultural markers become parody.
I have lived in this state for most of my life, searching for “home” always feeling more at ease in cultures that were not my own, enjoying the challenge of adventure, but also liking that I could not be blamed for whatever ills besieged them.
Famous for its lemurs, and notorious for destroying their habitat, the island of Madagascar was not much of a tourist destination when first I arrived in 1992. Hotels were few, amenities even fewer, and whatever infrastructure the French colonials had put in place during their tenure, had been left unattended since their 1960 departure. It was remote, mysterious, and incredibly beautiful.
Perhaps it was the equatorial light reflecting off the island’s red clay earth at day’s end, the warm and welcoming Malagasy people, or the challenge of living life so close to the edge of death, that kept me returning to Madagascar every year for five consecutive years. I couldn’t get enough. “The Face of Madagascar,” a series of black and white photographs, paired with Malagasy proverbs – assigned by village elders – was completed in 1996.
Islands are very self-contained. Those who inhabit them, especially if poor, do not move far from where they were born. So, in 2001, when I finally returned to Madagascar as director of a study abroad program, I found many of the people I knew from previous years: selling goods at the marketplaces, parking their taxis at the same stand, and begging on familiar street corners. But despite the familiar, things had changed. Madagascar was besieged by an aesthetic influenced by an emerging global economy. The Madagascar I returned to in 2001 was full of visual anomalies that had either not been there or not been evident to me in previous years.
The black and white scenes I so reflexively captured in previous years no longer materialized in my viewfinder. What I now saw needed the deception of color and the static nature of medium format to capture the irony and illusion of Madagascar’s infiltrating consumerism, and the isolation I sensed because of it.