I often think about the different histories of photography – how they intersect and diverge and how so much necessarily gets left out by any attempt to tell a coherent story about the history of the medium. I think a lot about the various histories of photography in the western US – a history of photography being part of military surveys and documentation of wars against indigenous peoples.
If I were to update that essay, I’d talk about how things like drones, autonomous weapons, AI vision systems, and computer vision in general are part of this history of photography that interlaces forms of mechanical “seeing” with state power, colonialism, technology, extraction, and dispossession.
Karnak is from a body of work that looks at 19th Century photography in the western US in relation to contemporary forms of computer vision and AI. Trying to think through some of the histories of image-making, technology, extraction, and colonialism that create a thread from contemporary Silicon Valley to 19th Century survey photography.
The place is a weird ridge in Nevada that was photographed by Timothy O’Sullivan on the Wheeler “reconnaissance” survey of the west in 1867 – O’Sullivan’s image is one of my all-time favorite photographs ever made.
It took me years to find this place – rummaging around the desert over many summers. One time I thought I’d found it. The problem was that it got dark and there was no trail and I only knew that my truck was about 2 miles north of me parked on a dirt road that was perpendicular to the direction I’d hiked. I had to follow the north star (good thing I had to learn how to read the sky from photographing satellites). I have to admit I never actually found the site. I was talking to Bill Fox one day and mentioned my ongoing quest, and he told me he’d been there with Mark Klett. Bill put me in touch with Mark, who very generously gave me the GPS coordinates – Mark had found the site as part of his “Third View” project with Byron Wolf.
The image is made with an 8×10 camera, whose film has been scanned and run through the computer vision software that we built in my studio and then printed as a traditional gelatin silver print.