Photography and the poetics of everyday existence

“Landscape also presents us with a social text, usually readable and sometimes wonderfully composed, in which man and nature – the signs of one, the symbols of the other – meet” Henri Lefebvre (1961) Critique de la vie quotidienne II: Fondements d’une sociologie de la quotidienneté.

“Dwelling, is in its essence, poetic. It is fundamental to the human condition, not an accidental form or a determined function” Henri Lefebvre (1966) Preface to the Study of the Habitat of the ‘Pavillon’.

You are in hospital. Perhaps you are a patient, or supporting someone who is. A person who has left his or her symbols of healthy autonomy tucked away in a neat, white locker to become supine, now a body through which actions are preformed. After a day, a week or months have passed - they walk back to that locker, slip on their street clothes and leave through automatic doors. Same-but-changed, but restored nevertheless. In an equally familiar scenario, they may not. Instead, you become a collector of personal effects, a witness to the person that was.

People begin and end their lives here every hour. This is in spite of all of our post-industrial reassurances of control: sleek linoleum floors, antiseptic hand wash dispensers, reassuring Helvetica text signs guiding you through ordered corridors and departments - the soul wrenching business of living and dying relentlessly spills into the rational order. It is an awe inspiring yet utterly homologous effect of the contemporary hospital complex. The perpetual tension between hope, despair and cold architectural uniformity thus spark the poetics of an institutional space.

We have all felt ‘it’- whereby chance environmental encounters force us to examine our own humanity. Due to the stealthy, cumulative development of such awareness, it is a difficult feeling to contain. I quote Lefebvre above simply because he is one of the most prominent philosophers to expound on how architectural form and landscape informs the minutiae of how we think, feel and structure our lives. Yet more taxing still is an examination of this awareness without recourse to words, to capture the moment of ‘when the signs of one, and the other – meet.’ 

Branger’s photographic series are a rare and tantalising expose of this process. An empty hospital corridor seems swollen with fear, longing and tenuous prayers. A view from a speeding train isolates a blurred pylon, power and velocity transformed into a delicate watercolour facsimile. Commuters on a train assume an anthropological strangeness, in conflict with the subjective intimacy they demand from the viewer. A wall of multi-coloured, incandescent jellyfish creates a wallpaper of life forms: divorced from the sea and rendered sublime by isolation. Through Branger’s heightening of strangeness via the familiar, we enter an emotional space that is uncomfortable, raw and oddly transcendent. Same-but-changed, not reconciled but restored. 

Foreword by Belinda Heath.