REVIEW: Spencer Murphy: The Abyss Gazes Into You @ Photofusion

Written by NYPD on . Posted in London Photo Diary

Photoville - New York, New York

Photoville - New York, New York

Transphotographique - Lille, France

Transphotographique - Lille, France

Festival Photo La Gacilly - Gacilly, France

Festival Photo La Gacilly - Gacilly, France

Les Rencontres d'Arles - Arles, France

Les Rencontres d'Arles - Arles, France

Encuentros Abiertos Festival de la Luz - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Encuentros Abiertos Festival de la Luz - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Cortona On The Move - Cortona, Italy

Cortona On The Move - Cortona, Italy

Recontres Internacionale de la Photographie en Gaspesie - Gaspesie, Canada

Recontres Internacionale de la Photographie en Gaspesie - Gaspesie, Canada

Tiff Festival - Breslau, Poland

Tiff Festival - Breslau, Poland

Ballarat International Foto Biennale - Ballarat, Australia

Ballarat International Foto Biennale - Ballarat, Australia

+1000 Photography Festival - Gstaad, Switzerland

+1000 Photography Festival - Gstaad, Switzerland

GETXOPHOTO: Bilbao, Spain

GETXOPHOTO: Bilbao, Spain

Kaunas Photo - Kaunas, Lithuania

Kaunas Photo - Kaunas, Lithuania

Tbilisi Photo Festival - Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi Photo Festival - Tbilisi, Georgia

Rencontres Photographique de Toulouse - Toulouse, France

Rencontres Photographique de Toulouse - Toulouse, France

Encontros da Imagem - Braga, Portugal

Encontros da Imagem - Braga, Portugal

Paraty Em Foco - Paraty, Brazil

Paraty Em Foco - Paraty, Brazil

Filter Photo Festival - Chicago, Illinois

Filter Photo Festival - Chicago, Illinois

Slow Exposures - Pike County, Georgia

Slow Exposures - Pike County, Georgia

Indian Photography Festival - Hyderabad, India

Indian Photography Festival - Hyderabad, India

Photo Fairs Shanghai - Shanghai, China

Photo Fairs Shanghai - Shanghai, China

Unseen Photo Fair - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Unseen Photo Fair - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Guernsey Photography Festival - Guernsey, Channel Islands

Guernsey Photography Festival - Guernsey, Channel Islands

Uppsala Foto Festival - Uppsala, Sweden

Uppsala Foto Festival - Uppsala, Sweden

Atlanta Celebrates Photography - Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta Celebrates Photography - Atlanta, Georgia

BursaPhoto Fest - Bursa, Turkey

BursaPhoto Fest - Bursa, Turkey

Festival of Ethical Photography - Lodi, Italy

Festival of Ethical Photography - Lodi, Italy

Noorderlicht International Photo Festival - Groningen, Netherlands

Noorderlicht International Photo Festival - Groningen, Netherlands

Lugano Photo Days - Lugano, Switzerland

Lugano Photo Days - Lugano, Switzerland

Zoom Photo Festival - Saguenay, Canada

Zoom Photo Festival - Saguenay, Canada

FotoDoks - Munich, Germany

FotoDoks - Munich, Germany

Medium - San Diego, California

Medium - San Diego, California

Review Santa Fe Photo Festival - Santa Fe, New Mexico

Review Santa Fe Photo Festival - Santa Fe, New Mexico

Photoreporter - Baie of Saint Brieuc, France

Photoreporter - Baie of Saint Brieuc, France

LagosPhoto Festival - Lagos, Nigeria

LagosPhoto Festival - Lagos, Nigeria

Month of Photography Bratislava

Month of Photography Bratislava

Paris Photo - Paris, France

Paris Photo - Paris, France

FotoArtFestival - Bielsko-Biała, Poland

FotoArtFestival - Bielsko-Biała, Poland

PhotoNOLA - New Orleans, Louisiana

PhotoNOLA - New Orleans, Louisiana

Lianzhoufoto - Lianzhou, China

Lianzhoufoto - Lianzhou, China

PhotoLux - Lucca, Italy

PhotoLux - Lucca, Italy

Rencontres de Bamako - Bamako, Mali

Rencontres de Bamako - Bamako, Mali

Photo North Festival – Harrogate, UK

Photo North Festival – Harrogate, UK

Angkor Photo Festival - Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor Photo Festival - Angkor, Cambodia

Miami Street Photography Festival - Miami, Florida

Miami Street Photography Festival - Miami, Florida

Pluie Images - Brest, France

Pluie Images - Brest, France

Europäischer Monat der Fotografie Berlin - Berlin, Germany

Europäischer Monat der Fotografie Berlin - Berlin, Germany

CLICK! Triangle Photography Festival - North Carolina, U.S.

CLICK! Triangle Photography Festival - North Carolina, U.S.

Photo Basel - Basel, Switzerland

Photo Basel - Basel, Switzerland

Fotofusion - West Palm Beach, Florida

Fotofusion - West Palm Beach, Florida

PhotoLA - Los Angeles, California

PhotoLA - Los Angeles, California

Exposure Photography Festival - Calgary, Canada

Exposure Photography Festival - Calgary, Canada

Chobi Mela - Dhaka, Bangladesh

Chobi Mela - Dhaka, Bangladesh

Fotofestival - Mannheim, Germany

Fotofestival - Mannheim, Germany

Format - Derby, United Kingdom

Format - Derby, United Kingdom

Eyes On: Monat der Fotografie Wien - Vienna, Austria

Eyes On: Monat der Fotografie Wien - Vienna, Austria

Belgrade Photo Month - Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade Photo Month - Belgrade, Serbia

Emoi Photographique -	Angouleme, France

Emoi Photographique - Angouleme, France

Hong Kong Photo Festival - Hong Kong

Hong Kong Photo Festival - Hong Kong

Image Festival Amman - Amman, Jordan

Image Festival Amman - Amman, Jordan

Circulation(s) Festival de la jeune photographie européenne - Paris, France

Circulation(s) Festival de la jeune photographie européenne - Paris, France

Photometria - Ioannina, Greece

Photometria - Ioannina, Greece

Summer of Photography - Brussels, Belgium

Summer of Photography - Brussels, Belgium

Itinéraires des Photographes Voyageurs - Bordeaux, France

Itinéraires des Photographes Voyageurs - Bordeaux, France

Cork Photo - Cork, Ireland

Cork Photo - Cork, Ireland

Photolucida - Portland, Oregon

Photolucida - Portland, Oregon

HeadOn Photo Festival - Sydney, Australia

HeadOn Photo Festival - Sydney, Australia

Capture Photography Festival - Vancouver, Canada

Capture Photography Festival - Vancouver, Canada

Photo Festival - Milan, Italy

Photo Festival - Milan, Italy

Le Mois de la Photo - Paris, France

Le Mois de la Photo - Paris, France

Reclaim Photography Festival - West Midlands, UK

Reclaim Photography Festival - West Midlands, UK

Fotografia Europea - Reggio Emilia, Italy

Fotografia Europea - Reggio Emilia, Italy

Kyotographie International Photography Festival - Kyoto, Japan

Kyotographie International Photography Festival - Kyoto, Japan

Photo2020 - Melbourne, Australia

Photo2020 - Melbourne, Australia

Seoul Photo - Seoul, South Korea

Seoul Photo - Seoul, South Korea

Darmstädter Tage der Fotografie - Därmstadt, Germany

Darmstädter Tage der Fotografie - Därmstadt, Germany

Glasgow Photography Festival - Glasgow, Scotland

Glasgow Photography Festival - Glasgow, Scotland

Hyeres Festival of Fashion and Photography - Hyres, France

Hyeres Festival of Fashion and Photography - Hyres, France

PhotoOn Festival - Valencia, Spain

PhotoOn Festival - Valencia, Spain

Photo Festival Leiden - Leiden, Netherlands

Photo Festival Leiden - Leiden, Netherlands

Nordic Light Festival - Kristiansund, Norway

Nordic Light Festival - Kristiansund, Norway

Photo Festival Naarden - Naarden, Netherlands

Photo Festival Naarden - Naarden, Netherlands

Photo Med:  Festival of Mediterranean Photography  - Sanary-sur-Mer, France

Photo Med: Festival of Mediterranean Photography - Sanary-sur-Mer, France

Prague Photo Festival -  Prague, Czech Republic

Prague Photo Festival - Prague, Czech Republic

Riga Photo Month - Riga, Latvia

Riga Photo Month - Riga, Latvia

Rovinj Photo Days - Rojinj, Croatia

Rovinj Photo Days - Rojinj, Croatia

imageSingulières - Sète, France

imageSingulières - Sète, France

Internationale Photoszene Köln - Cologne, Germany

Internationale Photoszene Köln - Cologne, Germany

Les Boutographies - Montpellier, France

Les Boutographies - Montpellier, France

Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival - Toronto, Canada

Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival - Toronto, Canada

May 2020

Auckland Festival of Photography - Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland Festival of Photography - Auckland, New Zealand

Palm Springs Photo Festival - Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs Photo Festival - Palm Springs, California

Art Photo Bcn - Barcelona, Spain

Art Photo Bcn - Barcelona, Spain

Images: Festival des Arts Visuels de Vevey - Vevey, Switzerland

Images: Festival des Arts Visuels de Vevey - Vevey, Switzerland

Photo London - London, UK

Photo London - London, UK

Fotorama Fest - Kragujevac, Serbia

Fotorama Fest - Kragujevac, Serbia

Photomonth in Krakow - Lodz, Poland

Photomonth in Krakow - Lodz, Poland

Malmo Photo Biennal - Malmo, Sweden

Malmo Photo Biennal - Malmo, Sweden

Organ Vida - Zagreb, Croatia

Organ Vida - Zagreb, Croatia

Internationales Fotografiefestival F/Stop Leipzig - Leipzig, Germany

Internationales Fotografiefestival F/Stop Leipzig - Leipzig, Germany

LUMIX Festival of Young Photojournalism - Hannover, Germany

LUMIX Festival of Young Photojournalism - Hannover, Germany

Athens Photo Festival - Athens, Greece

Athens Photo Festival - Athens, Greece

Belfast Photo Festival - Belfast, Ireland

Belfast Photo Festival - Belfast, Ireland

PHotoEspaña - Madrid, Spain

PHotoEspaña - Madrid, Spain

Festival de Fotografia de Tiradentes - Tiradentes, Brazil

Festival de Fotografia de Tiradentes - Tiradentes, Brazil

Photonic Moments - Ljubljana, Slovenia

Photonic Moments - Ljubljana, Slovenia

Copenhagen Photo Festival - Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen Photo Festival - Copenhagen, Denmark

Antiparos Photo Festival - Antiparos, Greece

Antiparos Photo Festival - Antiparos, Greece

Voies Off  - Arles, France

Voies Off - Arles, France

WARM Festival  - Sarajevo, Bosnia

WARM Festival - Sarajevo, Bosnia

Fotoseptiembre: San Antonio, Texas

Fotoseptiembre: San Antonio, Texas

Fotonoviembre - Tenerife, Spain

Fotonoviembre - Tenerife, Spain

Helsinki Photo Festival: HELPHOTO - Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki Photo Festival: HELPHOTO - Helsinki, Finland

FotoFest International - Houston, Texas

FotoFest International - Houston, Texas

Higashikawa International Photo Festival - Higashikawa, Japan

Higashikawa International Photo Festival - Higashikawa, Japan

Visa Pour L’Image – Perpignan, France

Visa Pour L’Image – Perpignan, France

Mt. Rokko International Photography Festival - Kobe, Japan

Mt. Rokko International Photography Festival - Kobe, Japan

Wiesbadener Fototage - Wiesbaden, Germany

Wiesbadener Fototage - Wiesbaden, Germany

Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Landskrona Foto Festival - Landskrona, Sweden

Landskrona Foto Festival - Landskrona, Sweden

Singapore International Photo Festival - Singapore, Malaysia

Singapore International Photo Festival - Singapore, Malaysia

Backlight Photo Festival - Tampere, Finland

Backlight Photo Festival - Tampere, Finland

Xposure Festival  - Sharjah, UAE

Xposure Festival - Sharjah, UAE

Verzasca Foto Festival - Valle Verzasca, Switzerland

Verzasca Foto Festival - Valle Verzasca, Switzerland

BredaPhoto: International Photo Festival - Breda, Netherlands

BredaPhoto: International Photo Festival - Breda, Netherlands

FotoFocus - Cincinatti, Ohio

FotoFocus - Cincinatti, Ohio

Brighton Photo Biennal - Brighton, UK

Brighton Photo Biennal - Brighton, UK

Brighton Photo Fringe - Brighton, UK

Brighton Photo Fringe - Brighton, UK

PhotoVisa - Krasnodar, Russia

PhotoVisa - Krasnodar, Russia

Photo Oxford - Oxford, UK

Photo Oxford - Oxford, UK

Doha Photography Festival - Doha, Qatar

Doha Photography Festival - Doha, Qatar

Addis Foto Fest - Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Addis Foto Fest - Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Diffusion Festival - Cardiff, UK

Diffusion Festival - Cardiff, UK

Month of Photography - Luxembourg

Month of Photography - Luxembourg

San Jose Foto - San Jose, Uruguay

San Jose Foto - San Jose, Uruguay

Triennale der Photographie Hamburg - Germany, Hamburg

Triennale der Photographie Hamburg - Germany, Hamburg

BIP - Biennial of the Possible Image, Liège, Belgium

BIP - Biennial of the Possible Image, Liège, Belgium

Imago Lisboa Foto Festival- Lisbon, Portugal

Imago Lisboa Foto Festival- Lisbon, Portugal

Death and decay, the precarious fate of humanity, our disregard for the environment; it would be easy (though complacent) to see The Abyss Gazes Into You as an exhibition seeped in cynicism.  It doesn’t help to dissuade this impression that Nietzsche, a philosopher with a notorious reputation as a nihilist, is quoted for the exhibition’s title.  However, while a sense of desolation and existential despair may be a strain running through the work, it’s the wider sweep of existence and how we relate to it that Spencer Murphy is captivated by, and eager to explore.

Greatly influenced by the 18th century Romantic Movement, especially the landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich, Murphy expresses a similar fascination for the majesty and intangibility of nature.  Like Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1817), the exhibition includes a number of photographs in which lone figures look thoughtfully over wild, sprawling landscapes.  In Kurt and Jara, Lighthouse Beach, Tasmania, 2010, a man stands atop his van staring out over the ocean as the sun starts to go down, in an assumed communion with the natural world.  Elevated as such, his diminished aspect contrasts against the vast stretch of sky.  In capturing these contemplative figures reflecting on the natural world, attention is in turn drawn to their significance in the grand scheme of things.  In contemplating the external world, they are forced also to contemplate themselves.

As Murphy explains, nature is both divine and dangerous, “the creator and potential destroyer of man.”  This uneasy relationship is perfectly encapsulated in Dawn, Bewl Water, 2009.  Taken on a winter’s day, four men stand in the middle of a frozen lake, chatting on the body of ice which stretches across the frame.  Their presence in the photo is vaguely incongruous.  Despite the incipient danger, their casual posture and body language suggests young friends hanging out on a street corner.  This photo illustrates the delicate balance between us and the natural world; evoking its beauty but also the possibility that it could collapse under us at any moment.

His work also explores our interdependency with the world and the idea that “although we are a part of the natural world, we see ourselves as separate from it and somehow as higher beings”.  In other words, we see ourselves as inhabitants on earth but not of being “of” the earth.  Our symbiotic relationship with nature is evident in both the photos Fox By a Pile of Tin, 2006 and Tin Mountain.  In the former, human activity is indicated by the pile of rusted metal in the junk yard, a single fox sitting at its edge.  In the later, the populousness of the human race and our wastefulness is suggested by having disused tin fill the frame from side to side, bottom to top, with just a small slither of sky to make clear its towering proportions.  These images highlight that, as much as nature can be vast and destructive, our own actions can be as foreboding and disastrous to the ecology we inhabit.

The work presented here is beguiling, mysterious.  Partly about how we relate to the world and how the world relates to us.  As Murphy himself admits, the essence of the collection is difficult to articulate, “as it’s more about a feeling or emotion that strikes us in those moments [of contemplation].”  It would seem then that the aim of his work is embodying those rare instances of enlightenment when, like a Rubik’s cube finally fitting together, the universe silently whispers its secrets in your ear and everything makes sense, if only for a second.

Daniel Pateman

65913_926032882744_691854252_n (1)Daniel Pateman studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University and continues to indulge his abiding interest in the arts. He has enjoyed writing since a young age and currently produces articles for a number of online publications.  He keeps a blog called The End of Fiction, consisting of his poetry, prose and other creative work, and is currently looking to forge a new career in the creative industries.

Image credits:

Dawn, Bewl Water, 2009. From the series ‘The Abyss Gazes Into You’ © Spencer Murphy
Memento Mori, 2009.  From the series ‘The Abyss Gazes Into You’ © Spencer Murphy
Andy at the Abandoned Airfield, 2009.  From the series ‘The Abyss Gazes Into You’ © Spencer Murphy