A personal response to the current atmosphere of uncertainty, White Horses is a meditation on an anxious society struggling to come to terms with the rapid changes that are reshaping our world. Increasingly, our society has become ever more disconnected from reality and fearful about what is to come. Roaming the in-between spaces of Dublin’s commuter-belt, using expired 35mm film, the dreamlike state evoked by these images reflects a world where all that is solid melts into air. Located between small towns and the city, White Horses portrays an apprehensive landscape, where the fading memories of a romanticised past intersect with an uncertain future.
White Horses - text by Ian Bamford
Photographs of the Irish landscape will always be loaded with meaning. The layers of history inscribed on to the fabric of this small island means that all depictions of it will inevitably lead to a clash between the past and the present. The most obvious of these is the contrast between the romanticised view of the countryside as a bastion of cultural and national purity versus the urbanised world where most of us actually live and work. Indeed, these two conflicting views of the landscape mirror how we have negotiated the huge social changes that have occurred since independence almost a hundred years ago. But the dividing line between the past and present is always in a state of flux. Just like the commuter belt where these images were made, the boundaries between these two territories are ill-defined and constantly subject to change. More recently, years of economic crisis, unemployment, emigration and unremitting austerity has taken its toll. While all suffered, some suffered more than others. Triage was the order of the day. Scarce resources were ploughed into the urban centres while the countryside was allowed to stagnate. This divide between town and country became the frontier between an imagined past and a precarious present where options had narrowed considerably. Unsurprisingly, a generation who had been told that all the problems that had bedevilled this land for so long had been resolved despaired of their future. Just like their predecessors, many voted with their feet.
The modern world is based around our ability to cope with uncertainty. We have spent a lot of time and effort in creating complex social structures designed to produce a sense of normality and routine in everyday life. When these function well, they go unnoticed. Boring, steady predictability has a distinct lack of drama – qualities that are not the stuff of books or movies. When we live in dull times we assume they will go on forever and we hunger for change to liven up our pedestrian lives. Because the future looks so predictably boring we start to romanticise the past and begin cherry-picking disjointed fragments of history to focus on. With nothing to inspire us going forward, we start to knit these fragments together into a new narrative about how things were so much better back in the good old days. However, this selective nostalgia of an idealised past that never really existed creates its own dangers. After all, if your benchmark is an imagined ideal then nothing will ever be good enough. In reality, the good old days, as we imagine them, never really existed. They are our invention. The past was always much more nuanced and complicated than the darkly romanticised fairy tales spun by smiling figures who offer simple solutions to complex problems.
A sense of foreboding has become the dominant narrative of our time. The story we once told ourselves about tomorrow being better than today rings hollow and without it, we are cast adrift. Because our faith in the future has evaporated we are left feeling uneasy. A singular idea defined the past few centuries: progress. It was taken for granted that we would make the world a better, fairer place and that each new generation would live a more prosperous and happier life than the previous one. But this idea has lost its potency. Outwardly the world around us remains unchanged. People go to work, shop in discount supermarkets and the mundane hustle and bustle of life goes on as usual. It looks the same but feels different somehow. Reality itself seems to be in a state of flux. And in the face of the new confusing and fragmented world we have found ourselves in, the everyday can start to resemble a bad-trip. Life today can be a hallucinatory experience at times. Sometimes it even seems as if everything that once felt so solid is melting into thin air before our very eyes. But this too will pass. Something new will emerge and with the benefit of hindsight commentators and historians of the future will tell us that this new normal was inevitable. Over time, the trauma and drama of today will fade and become nostalgia fodder for future generations to obsess over. But all that lies ahead. In the meantime all we can do is hold on tight and ride out the wave that is crashing over us.