Michael Mcginley


Functional Ecology 

Most work begins with a moment of seeing – relationships generally. Although the images in this project are marked by the absence of people, the human condition in relationship to the nature and communication is the subject of the work.

On a recent journey to the Northern Region of Iceland I was granted permission to enter an Eider colony at Skagafjörður by the local farmer on the understanding that I would be respectful of the nesting birds.  My intention was to photograph a BTS (Base Transceiver Site) standing amongst a field dotted with hundreds of small fluttering white flags. Each flag marked the nest of an Eider. After careful circumnavigation of the field around the BTS I set up my view camera. 

My viewing of the ground glass under the dark cloth was interrupted by the approach of an elderly woman and her two grandchildren. Each was clutching an arm full of flags and cloth bags for the collection of the Eider feathers from vacated nests. I offered them the opportunity to view the scene from underneath the dark cloth. Both the Icelandic grandmother and her two young grandchildren expressed their fascination with the upside down and back to front vision beneath the cloth and wanted to know why the cell mast was the focus of my interest. I asked them did they own mobile phones. The two boys promptly presented their Android devices and their grandmother displayed her iphone. This led to a discussion on how communication technologies have changed their lives and consequently how the BTS situated on their Eider colony was therefore a now significant structure in their ancient landscape. With this, they each appeared satisfied and then duly beckoned me follow them to a nearby Eider nest to witness their time honoured practice of feather collecting. 

 ‘Nature’ at the Eider colony in Skagafjörður has communicated the physical boundary of that space for centuries. The recent arrival of global communication systems has produced a new set of informational social boundaries which co-exist and transform the lived experience in remote locations such as Skagafjörður. I have become fascinated by the seemingly innocuous arrival of these sculptural communication masts in our landscape. Their skeletal temporary forms belie their social and evolutionary significance. They are visible boundary points between the nature and complex communication systems. Consider for a moment the following juxtaposition: Industrial scale surveillance programmes (involving the NSA and communications corporations such as Apple, Facebook and Google) and the hand picking of feathers from an Eider nest. A few years ago it would have seemed inconceivable that two such distinct practices/spaces could co-exist. But here we are – communication technologies are altering our landscape and forever altering the ways in which we communicate with it.

Most of these photographs are produced by a particular set of operations that are specific to large format (5×4) photography.  This analogue method necessitates a slow and material approach to image creation and is indebted to the land artists of the 1970’s. Such artists often employed photography to record performative events that were situated beyond the boundaries of ‘Art’ institutions. The events that I document here focus on how we are producing new social spaces through our adoption of new communication and information technologies.

Perhaps all the photographs succeed in doing is communicating our alienation from Nature?