Occupation by Meredith Davenport


I am interested in how news images and narratives enter into our internal emotional lives. I investigate notions of truth in the document, and how news photographs and media stories carry other messages beyond their intended informational content. I like to exploit uncanny gaps in logic by using double narratives that weave together external social and political themes with internal psychological ones. Much of my work originates from my experience working as a news and documentary photographer, where my internal narratives were often mixed with the political and social stories I worked on.

In the past several years I have been fascinated to watch the closing and demolition of Midtown Plaza in Rochester, New York, the first urban indoor mall (built in 1962). There is an uncanny visual resemblance to the images of the destruction of the Twin Towers in Manhattan. These references of destruction and despair lie in the literal heart of the city of Rochester. The scene of the demolition project, which began three years ago, was a low-level echo of trauma and violence similar to those we see embodied in some of the media images of 9/11 and from countries in conflict or in the aftermath of natural disasters. Beyond the metaphors of destruction as a force of renewal that are quite common in the news media, I have been thinking a lot about the idea of nostalgia—a memory of something idealized that never really existed in that form. I am also exploring the community’s memories of this site and watching how those ideas change as the site moves from a destructive metaphor to a creative one of rebuilding.

Occupation is a work-in-progress that incorporates archival photographs and still frames from archival films of the plaza being built, along with film stills that I made of the demolition of the plaza. I was struck by the similarity of the archival images of the removal of bedrock to construct the foundation, and the images of the removal of the current buildings. I have started to think about the idea of perspective and how it relates to time. The entire process of the destruction of Midtown Plaza has been documented by an unmanned camera on top of a building across the street that streams the information live to a website (www.cityofrochester.gov/midtown). Looking at those images and the satellite maps of the site, I realized that the contemporary sense of perspective and virtual movement in space is remarkably different from the historical perspective provided by the still camera when the building was constructed. In the installation, I have explored the idea of perspective.

I also created a set of photographs that re-document various views of the site that will be used in an augmented reality application that plays with the “Kodak Picture Spot.” Pedestrians will be prompted to download the app at designated picture spots downtown. When they use the app, they will be prompted to make pictures with their smartphones. Each picture they make will actually be a copy of the older version of that view. There is a set of figures that I have removed from the original images and enlarged to life size. Much like Paolo Cirio’s “Street Ghosts,” these historical ghost figures will be reintroduced as large posters onto the buildings in the same positions they occupied in the original photographs.< Meredith Davenport

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