Nothing to see here: Capturing the vacant in photography | Kizzy Bray

Since starting my masters course I’ve barely had time to think, and much less, to think what to write. Studying Visual Anthropology and being appointed The Mancunion’s Head Design Editor of the print paper, I’ve mostly been working with images rather than words for months on end. Last year I was churning out a blog post every fortnight and a couple of articles every week, but this year I’ve found it pretty hard to put pen to paper.

I thought for my first post back I’d combine the visual with the verbal with this photography exploration. Something that has been on my mind recently is how to express a sense of emptiness and vacancy in photography. Mainly because it’s what I’ll hope to achieve in my final project for my masters (no spoilers, please), but also because for The Mancunion  we printed a designers photo essay exploring this very topic, stillness in the busy through the topic ‘Fallowfield at Night’. The photo essay didn’t go online and was a special for our ‘Misogyny Is Hate‘ themed print issue 8. Here are some of my favourites from the series (taken by myself, and the Editor-in-Cheif, Ethan Davies).


Without words, how do you take a picture of something thats not there, but usually it is? How can the audience infer from your image what is going on, or what isn’t going on, and why?

Photographer Jo Broughton does this remarkably well in her work ‘Empty Porn Sets’. Rather than being shocking, the series excludes the explicit and instead the rooms read like a sexy Ikea catalogue, with some questionable fuchsia flower art prints hanging on the corrugated board walls of the set, and eye masks-turn-blindfolds flung on the freshly pressed baby pink silk duvet of the bed.

The suspiciously tidy bedrooms, and 7ft unwrapped Christmas presents of the newly designed sets contrast those with signs of use: discarded knickers, strappy heels and a rather innocently placed dildo litter the school room set, the army barracks, the hospital bed. “These are playgrounds of cheapish fantasy which are left like historical documents to the sex act” Jo’s website reads. Artefacts of taboo from the museum of hidden things. When the subject of the empty in photography itself is both overwhelmingly present in society but morally and publicly prohibited like porn is, the absence in the photo mimics its place in society: it’s there, you just can’t see it right now.

Starkly opposite in subject matter, but intriguingly similar in theme, Melanie Friend‘s series ‘Boarder Country’ is a reflection of life in a Immigration Removal Centre in the UK. The emptiness of the images of the landscapes and institutional interiors of the centre are a reminder that the people who are inhabiting these institutions are scared, and alone. These images are accompanied by “soundtracks of voice recordings conveying the complex identities of detainees and the physical, psychological and emotional aspects of life in detention” in the exhibition, according to Melanie’s website. With such sensitive subject matters, sometimes showing nothing is as impactful as it could ever be.

written by @KizBray
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