Text and photographs by David Knight.
This project is shaped by a range of thoughts I’ve had in recent years on a variety of topics – not so much a clear and concise ideology. Initially, these images were to serve as sketches to help me explore and pin down my thoughts in order to reach my ultimate goal of producing a collection of images with clear and well-realised ideas. Along the way, however, they have ended up becoming a body of work in their own right.
This project has been influenced by a number of central themes. However, the works, made over a period of 18 months, are not a direct reflection of these themes, but rather are ‘flavoured’ by them. Some key themes include:
Migration and the growing ease of travel brought about by cheaper and therefore more accessible air travel.
Disconnection and alienation. Among other things, globalisation and ease of travel have precipitated fragmented domestic communities as family members seek out the best opportunities nationally or internationally.
City living and the global trend of urbanisation and loss of wider community.
Rising rates of binge-drinking and the role of alcohol as an artificial social crutch, functioning as the glue that holds these fragmented communities together.
The new ultra-materialist values prized by society, which entrenches a link between money and respect/status. Respect is increasingly a commodity to be bought, not earned.
Electronic communication and relationships. We are connected to more people than before, through telephones, mobiles, emails, and social networking sites, but is all this at the expense of real, meaningful contact and interaction? Is this life by proxy?
Shelter. Although it remains unchanged as a fundamental human need, home ownership is now an increasingly loaded topic, politically and emotionally, with increasing numbers of people suffering from so-called ‘mortgage stress’, and others seeing their basic dream of home ownership disappear with soaring prices.
The rise in depression and mental illness – how much of this can be linked with all these factors outlined above?
Migration/urbanisation and city
Living in a world where relatively cheap and accessible international travel has allowed people to work all around the world with comparative ease has meant that more people than ever before are living lives disconnected from close friends andfamily – the traditional support systems and safety nets that provide people with roots and anchors.
With the rising trend for people to gravitate to where the work is, more and more people are living in ever-expanding cities across the world. Human beings are essentially social animals. However, to a certain degree, city living forces us to selectively disconnect with society in order not to be overwhelmed by it. It is not possible to interact with the multitudes of people we see on our way to and from work, for example, so we develop a range of coping mechanisms. Many of us are increasingly choosing to disconnect from reality, if only temporarily, during the day, escaping into an artificial sanctuary by putting on our Ipod, texting on our Iphone, cocooning ourselves within a newspaper, or isolating ourselves by pulling a hoodie up over our heads. They’re all, in some way, strategies to lessen the sensory overload, or to avoid dealing with immediate reality. They create vital personal space in a crowded environment. We isolate ourselves, create our own seclusion zones, hit the disconnect button.
Although communication between people has exploded, through email, texting, the mobile, and the multiple andever-increasing forms of electronic social networking, in some ways this has increased our sense of disconnection between each other. How much of this is communication by proxy? Are we all being fooled into thinking that our lives are richer and more meaningful because we have 5, 100, a 1,000 Facebook friends, or a myriad of business associates on Linked, or a continual stream of updates documenting our busy social lives – ‘Look at me – my life is great, and I have the photos to prove it!’ – on our social networking sites?
Alcohol as a social crutch
I cannot conceive of many social situations where alcohol does not play some part. It is the social glue that holds it all together. Given our increasing longevity, it’s interesting to ponder what role alcohol plays at a time in society when people appear to be experiencing much longer periods of fun without responsibility. What happens when people begin to slow down from party phase of their lives, which now seems to extend well into the thirties for a large proportion of people? Is there a correlation between when people start to drink less, and do less drugs, and the emergence of depression, suicide and mental illness? Or are alcohol and drug use themselves the cause?
Many so-called developed societies seem to have developed a weekend binge-drinking culture, where the prevailing attitude appears to be to drink to get smashed, drink to get fucked up, drink to get laid, drink to become someone else, drink to oblivion. The gauge of a good night is measured in how fucked you were, whether you got fucked, and whether the next day you still feel fucked! And naturally, this is repeated again on Saturday night, and for the truly dedicated, the Sunday afternoon session too.
Why has this weekend binge-drinking culture developed? Why has it extended past the twenties and well into the thirties, sometimes into the forties? Are we as a society in denial? Is it escapism? If we actually wake up a smell the roses, we may not like what we see. Life is complicated. But on the weekends, at least, we can all escape into a form of self-inflicted collective amnesia.
Mortgage stress and the fundamental need for shelter
Shelter is a fundamental human need. In most parts of the world, we would not survive without some form of it. Clearly it is unavoidable that with a shortage of land and a large disparity in wealth between people, the haves will always seek out, and get, the choicest shelter, naturally paying a premium for it. But how have we arrived at a situation where vast numbers of people can only dream of owning a house, or even, just an apartment? Most are resigned to a life of renting, but even this, with a shortage of new land for development, and ever-increasing property prices putting more upward pressure on rental prices, is getting out of reach for many. How are the rapidly increasing house prices sustainable? Who are the people buying these properties? How are they affording them? Salaries certainly don’t seem to have gone up at the same rate as house prices (with the exception of senior executives, whose salaries and bonuses seem to have decoupled themselves from actual performance and results).
What effect does all this pressure have on the psyche? There is now even a new phrase coined for this phenomenon – mortgage stress. Once upon a time, the conventional wisdom was that not more than 25% of your salary should go towards the mortgage. More and more, it seems that people are having to assign up to 50% of their earnings to the mortgage. In this climate, even attaining a small nest egg of savings, as a safety net, is nigh impossible. The new prevailing attitude seems to be to just forget it, and blindly put it on your credit card. If you have a $5,000 or $10,000 credit limit, that figure becomes your perceived savings. Most of us have conveniently forgotten that it is not our money, and that we have to pay it back. It appears that we have been living on borrowed time, as manifest by the recent global financial meltdown – itself a case of the whole world living beyond its means.
Banks, it can be argued, have had a large degree of culpability in this whole mess, with their willingness to extend credit to even the most unsuitable candidates. Are we heading towards an irrevocably bleak, dark economic future, or, will we, as a society find ways to deal with this brave new landscape?. What kind of society do we want for ourselves? What role will urban planning play as we move into the future?
Capitalism, status and consumerism
The way in which money is viewed in our society needs to be reconsidered. Clearly, communism as a principle seems great on paper. However, when field tested, it has proven flawed and unworkable when human desire and greed are taken into account. That being said, capitalism seems to have run aground, and we are all furiously bailing out water to save it! The divide between rich and poor, the haves and have-nots, continues to grow. The rich are getting super rich at the expense of everyone else. Many people in society are doing great work, but are not being rewarded financially for their efforts. And since, sadly in our society a person is able to buy respect, or marry into it, teachers, artists, academics, writers, poets, policemen, soldiers, doctors, nurses, and so on – the very fabric of society – are not afforded the respect that befits them, both in terms of status or monetary reward.
The growing surge in ultra-materialism and consumerism is seeing real debate on ideas, values and principles fall by the wayside. Consumerism is probably right up there with alcohol as a con job executed brilliantly over all of us. All my problems will go away, just as long as I can go shopping! Shopping in itself has become a pastime. No longer a means to and end, it is the end itself. We have collectively been convinced that we need more and more stuff. And with more and more us convinced that we need more, it is becoming impossible to keep up.
I can’t claim to have a single ideology behind this project,or even well-realized aims. However, this project is intrinsically shaped by the idea of isolation. Physical isolation caused by distance, mental isolation due to loneliness and deliberate isolation as a coping mechanism. I am particularly interested in the key drivers, outlined above, that may contribute to bringing this about, such as migration, disconnection from family, and city living. I hope that by outlining some of the factors I believe are contributing to this sense of social disconnection, the viewer will be able to look at these images through my eyes, using my thoughts and perceptions as a kind of filter.
Please visit David Knight website for more great photographs.