From Dust We Came and Dust We Shall Be

2020 - Photography - Annie King

Annie King is an interdisciplinary artist working with and against the grain of the photographic image. Through open ended research-led projects that engage with cultural and social theories, her work emerges from a space of deep thought and reflection. By uniting image and text and the narratives that arise, Annie seeks to tell stories whilst questioning the boundaries of the photographic image. Annie King is a recent graduate from Kingston School of Art, BA Photography and hopes to pursue an MA in Cultural Studies.


Text by Thomas Lake

Annie King’s ‘From Dust We Came and Dust We Shall Be’ is, for me, a beautifully humble sign of the times in every single way. It does not bear any overt relation to the much-exhausted topic of coronavirus and thus escapes any media desensitization we might feel towards the topic already. Instead, this series of photographs delicately reflects upon a secondary effect we are experiencing; a mass return to nature.

When first viewing these works, the notion of a pandemic does not initially spring to mind. Instead, I am immersed into an otherworldly landscape with no signifiers of the twenty-first century. This abstraction is at the core of any artistic medium, the artist beholds the ability to include/exclude at will in the pursuit of their constructed vision. Noticeably either taken late at night or in the early hours of the morning, Annie’s photographs are dripping in a twilight-aura which is at the heart of the surreal aesthetic. If one is to scratch the surface of the surreal or dreamlike, we are met with Freud’s dream theory. For Freud, dreams represent the unconscious, they are the animation of a repressed wish and I will return to this shortly.

With a basic understanding of photography, I am able to slowly undress the image. The lack of light at this hour necessitates either a long shutter speed, high ISO or wide aperture. Due to the blurred figure, I know this is a long shutter speed, perhaps paired with a high ISO as implied by the slightly grainy quality – finally, this conveniently allows for a narrow aperture which ensures overall clarity and sharpness. The blurred form is the key figure. The way the body moves towards the ground in every photograph is not a coincidence, instead a narrative which implies a literal and metaphorical reconnection with nature. I find it crucial that our human here is seen in the nude. To develop my earlier point about a lack of twenty-first century iconographies, the lack of clothing is visually reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, the human in its most unaltered form, and in this light, I do not hesitate in comparing Annie’s photographs to early renaissance paintings by Botticelli, perhaps.

The obstruction or anomaly is the lurid red mask. In Barthesian terms, we might consider the mask to be the ‘punctum’ - a detail which protrudes from the image and is visually arresting. While masks today are all the rage for another reason, Annie’s mask typically explores the desire to be unseen. The mask evades ‘facial recognition’ in the literal sense but let us consider this within our modern era. In close relation to facial recognition is CCTV, an Orwellian-esque phenomenon which we are so complacent towards today. It renders the everyday civilian a passive performer, a subject in front of the camera and it is here that I return to Freud’s dream theory. With our daily lives so meticulously regimented by higher powers, Annie’s photographs could be seen as a representation of the archetypal dream – a repressed wish, in this case, to do away with our belongings and seek refuge in the wild, free from any risk of being the CCTV’s unwilling street performer.

The more I engage with this work, the more unsettling it becomes. Our figure here is notably still performing for the camera and with the performer comes the spectator, or, in this case, I would be inclined to suggest the perverse ‘voyeur’ (a person who gains sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity). I feel, as the spectator-cum-voyeur, I am sinfully disrupting a biblical moment between the depicted human and their return to mother nature, that I am the person watching from the corresponding CCTV screen. ‘From Dust We Came and Dust We Shall Be’ not only addresses current affairs, but strikingly explores the very essence of visual culture; what it is to see and be seen.

Read Annie King’s essay on Thomas Lake’s work HERE.

Published 29/06/2020