In her new photo book A light on the wall, Emma Phillips documents the loneliness of country mining towns with the help of a Leica M9. The body of work takes its title from prolific writer and photographer Luigi Ghirri’s 1991 essay of the same name, and his influence is felt throughout the series of gently unsettling images.
“Reading literature is important for taking photographs,” Phillips tells The Creators Project.
“The poetry of the title is what initially appealed to me, and then I identified with the content, which speaks of the process of photographing the landscape, and more specifically of the complex issue of representation.”
In his essay, Phillips explains, “Ghirri speaks about photographs as small constellations: each picture carving a path, leading to a more legible image.”
“I’m sure I’ve butchered his words, but I see the task of photographing Australia as sort of similar in this way.”
All the photographs in A light on the wall were taken in 2016, in Melbourne’s outer suburbs as well as more rural locations like Queenstown, Port Arthur, Strahan, and Broken Hill. They depict derelict looking pool tables, vacant parking lots, old television sets, kitsch shop displays, and decaying buildings. People and faces are entirely absent from the series.
“I’m interested in how we see ourselves, and our relationship to the landscape and the artifice that’s caught up in all that,” Phillips says. “That’s why I photograph a lot of existing images like television sets and murals.”
Taking visual cues from Ghirri, as well as pioneering American photographers like William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, the images relate relate to one another only loosely. “I see them as fitting together through small similarities, one picture leading to the next and so on,” she explains. “Colour is important, and also images of artifice undercutting images of pure reality.”
The photographs might hide more than they show, but what goes unsaid speaks volumes about life outside of Australian capital cities.
“Australia hasn’t been well documented. We have a cloudy history which I don’t think we’ve come to terms with,” Phillips says. “Taking pictures is a way of getting closer to that and of uncovering half truths.”