The World After Us

Nathaniel Stern

Nathaniel Stern

The World After Us: Imaging techno-aesthetic futures is a photographic & video collection of temporary sculptures that combine plant life with electronic waste, and scientific experimentation with artistic exploration. They take the forms of: dead devices reclaimed by plant life; fossilized and reconfigured phones & laptops; and reimagined & re-formed digital tools. Taken together, the series asks: What will digital media be and do, after us? - What will my laptop, phone, or tablet look like in a million years? - How will our devices weather or grow over time? - What else might our techno-waste be? - Where might electronics lead our environmental and economic politics? - Can we plan and act toward new and different futures? The World After Us asks us to rethink and transform conversations, thoughts, and actions around media production, use, and waste. At stake are the relationships between humans and the natural world on the one hand, politics and commerce on the other.

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Ellen Von Unwerth profile photo

Ellen Von Unwerth

Ellen Von Unwerth’s thirty-year storied career defined the aesthetic of the 90’s and 2000’s and has made her a staple of fashion photography. Crafting cinematic scenarios for her shoots, Von Unwerth’s flashy, kinky, and humorous photographs invite viewers to come along on a boisterous escapade. By furnishing each of her subjects with a new persona to inhabit, she allows their inhibitions to melt away. The story telling aspect in her creative process has allowed her to create images that are never static and begs the question, “what is really going on here?” The inherent sexuality in her images is never without fun, and the subjects within her works are always powerful - positioned in control of their sex appeal.

My life will forever be intertwined with Ethiopia. In my teenage days, this country is where I first found my vision as a photographer. Later, Ethiopia would be where I found my home and my soul mate. ETHIOPIA is a monolithic collection of my images captured over the course of thirteen years. It is an ode to every region of the country and a celebration of all the unique peoples found within. These seemingly disconnected cultural threads are woven together in a cohesive visual style in order to truly see Ethiopia— which itself is the sum of all the diverse lands and theproud people who inhabit it. The dignified vision found in the portraits is not to obscure other searing realities within Ethiopia, such as the wealth inequality and traumatic conflict spread across the country. It is to highlight the prestige I have always recognized here. This collection is about the timeless and pure things that have withstood the politics of the day, and to challenge the way the outside world can perceive this country. This is my tribute to the enduring Ethiopia.

“I suppose I could make a work where the sun is shining, the mom is lying out in the grass, the kids are happy, and everything is perfect, but that wouldn’t interest me—and it wouldn’t be truthful. My aim is to create a more nuanced, subtly humorous and satirical portrait of the way we live today.” - Julie Blackmon The playfully artful and chaotic elements present in the photographs of Julie Blackmon (American, b. 1966) are drawn from the everyday people and places of Blackmon’s daily routine in her hometown of Springfield, Missouri, which she describes as “a generic American town in the middle of the United States.” At first glance, the works may conjure backyard paradises of children at play; a closer look reveals children alone in backyards, garages, and neighborhoods, where the absence of adults suggests a looming potential for danger. The images brim with fantasy and subtle satire that capture a delicate balance between the darkness and charm of contemporary American life. Blackmon carefully sets her scenes, but like film and theater directors, she is in pursuit of unscripted moments that provoke, disturb, and challenge the viewer. Some of the images reference paintings by Dutch masters, French impressionists, and such modern painters as Hopper and Balthus, but they are updated with a satirical, penetrating eye and Blackmon’s belief that artful fiction can capture the truth more memorably than the truth itself.

Black and White

Meryl Meisler was born in 1951 in the Bronx and raised on Long Island, New York. Inspired by Diane Arbus, she enrolled in photography classes at The University of Wisconsin–Madison. Moving to NYC in 1975, she studied with Arbus' mentor Lisette Model, continuing to document life with her quirky eye. While frequenting NY's legendary discos, punk clubs, and Go-Go bars, Meryl captured hedonistic havens, celebrities, and revelers of the night, never revealing the large bodies of unseen work until retiring from her 31-year career as an NYC public school art teacher. Quantum curated this NFT drop from her internationally acclaimed books A Tale of Two Cities Disco Era Bushwick (2014), Purgatory & Paradise SASSY '70s Suburbia & The City (2015), and New York PARADISE LOST Bushwick Era Disco (2021). Imagine pulsating music spinning on vinyl 45RPM as you view these fascinating images encapsulating 1970s nightlife. Meryl's exhibits include Brooklyn Museum, Annenberg Space for Photography, Dia Art Foundation, MASS MoCA, Islip Art Museum, Center for Photography at Woodstock, New Museum for Contemporary Art, LightWork, the Whitney Museum, galleries in NYC, Paris, and Berlin as well as installations at Grand Central Terminal and throughout the NYC subway system. Her first solo museum exhibition opens in May 2023 at the Zillman Museum. A recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, Meryl continues her photographic memoir begun in 1973 – a uniquely American story, sweet and sassy with a pinch of mystery. CLAMP represents her work.

After World War II, LIFE magazine assigned staff photographer W. Eugene Smith a human interest story about a doctor in rural America. They sent him to Kremmling, a small and remote town in northern Colorado. His subject: Dr. Ernest Ceriani. At first, Smith observed Dr. Ceriani and earned the trust of the townspeople. He wrote: 'I spent four weeks living with him. I made very few pictures at first. ... I simply faded into the wallpaper and waited.' The resulting story spanned 11 pages in LIFE's September 20, 1948 edition. Smith's intimate series depicts Dr. Ceriani as a heroic yet weary figure who made house calls, delivered babies, and tended to the young and old alike. Through Smith's lens, Ceriani carries the weight of the world on his shoulders as the only doctor within 400 miles. A LIFE compendium later summarized 'Country Doctor' as "an instant classic when published, establishing Smith as a master of the commanding young art form of the photo essay, and solidifying his stature as one of the most passionate and influential photojournalists of the 20th century." As TIME magazine explained in its 2016 compendium '100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time': "By digging so deeply into his assignment, Smith created a singular, starkly intimate glimpse into the life of a remarkable man. It became not only the most influential photo essay in history but the aspirational template for the form.'"

"I have spent my entire career photographing children all over the world. The last several years I have focused my eyes on the Irish Traveller that live in caravans on the side of the road or in open fields throughout Ireland. The Traveller community are an Irish nomadic indigenous ethnic minority. There is no recorded date as to when Travellers first came to Ireland. This is lost to history but Travellers have been recorded to exist in Ireland as far back as history is recorded. Even with their great history they live as outsiders to society and face unbelievable racism growing up. As a mother of two daughters I became so interested in the culture and traditions and lives of these children. I have spent many years traveling back and forth to Ireland to document these incredible children."


"The Fading Wilds” A series of landscapes highlighting the natural wonder of preserved lands. Marshall Scheuttle is a Las Vegas-based artist who mostly makes his home on the road. He holds an MFA from the University of Hartford, and a BFA from SUNY Purchase College. A 2020 NAC Fellow, Scheuttle's work has been widely exhibited, including Aperture Gallery and The Albright Knox Museum. His work is held in collections including the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago) and Burchfield Penny Art Center (Buffalo, NY).

Polaris is a meditation on otherworldly encounters in the Circumpolar Northern landscape. At once an inward and outward exploration, the images reflect my childhood perception of the natural world: a realm of wonder, mystery, and sometimes magic. To me, nature is the source of spiritual well-being, and making photographs is a way to connect with that source. These images reconstruct a childhood mythology in the boreal Alaskan landscape, where I was raised. The series explores the affinities between Iceland and the Alaskan Arctic; distant regions connected by climate, remoteness, and seismic activity. By traversing the landscape on foot in a receptive state of mind, numinous experiences reveal themselves. Ice, weather, animals, and celestial phenomena take on significance, and our human scale in geologic time becomes clearer. These images convey transcendent encounters, each imparting a sense of wonder in the presence of the unknown. Polaris, the North Star, functions as a metaphor for the presence I feel emanating from these places, the only constant in environments that are otherwise in constant flux.

Towering icebergs, doomed expeditions in tall ships, desolate landscapes with naught but howling wind– this was the vast Arctic from the paintings of European explorers in the 19th century. That romance carries on in the 21st century, even as the ice vanishes and increasing numbers of people experience the North in person. When the future has its way with the North, it will leave a radically altered land. The sea ice and its denizens will have vanished. Contemporary Inuit will be living vastly different lifestyles than that of their ancestors. Future generations will look back to remember a land little understood by outsiders. Will the imaginations of foreigners paint the sole history of an Arctic with ice and snow? What are the memories of the 3 million Greenlandic Kalallit, Alaskan Iñupiat, and European Samí who call the Arctic their home? Despite my ancestry as a Native Siberian, I experience the Arctic both as an insider and an outsider. My years there have left me with a vision of a multi-chromatic Far North. This is a land blued with ancient ice, deepened by blood, and radiant under the northern lights. My Arctic nostalgia is not for sailing ships, but for skinboats. My strongest memories are intimate ones– the smell of fermented seal oil, the sting of ice crystals on snowmobile rides, and the background din of howling Greenlandic huskies. A future North awaits– not cold and unchanging, but living, dying and being reborn. Everyday memories of the Arctic will pass forward as they always have, kept by its Indigenous peoples and hidden in plain sight.

Female Photographers

In the spring of 2020, panic surrounding COVID-19 erupted and mandatory shelter in place orders went into effect, forcing me to abandon long-planned portrait shoots, travel, and work in progress in my art studio. I found myself in a 340 sq ft apartment in a Bay-area neighborhood that was emptying by the day. The buzzing silence was profound. Two weeks into isolation, my drive to connect with others and make portraits only amplified. With no safe way to do so, I spontaneously turned the camera on myself to create a portrait. I printed it as a cyanotype, a simple nineteenth century photographic process that was only feasible due to the basic materials I happened to have on hand—a budget printer, transparency film and a package of fraying sheets of cotton pretreated with cyanotype chemicals. At first, I exposed the prints in the unpredictable spring sunlight coming through my third floor apartment window. As the seasons changed, I went on to make them in a garden, on the top of a car, or a patch of wobbly concrete tiles. I rinsed them in water and varying shades of blue emerged. I created a daily self-portrait using this technique for more than a year. I made most of these self-portraits inside various studio apartments that I lived in alone. To make the earliest pictures in the series, I had to move a couch every day to create space against a white wall near a window. I took others in fleeting spaces while traveling—in a guest room, in a medical examination room, during a pause in the wilderness, and later against the wall of an old California bungalow sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. In the beginning, I often tried to cover as much of my body and face as possible as a commentary on my fear of the virus and my efforts to guard against it. My armor and props ranged from common household items—potholders, tinfoil, dish towels, bedsheets, and toilet paper— to more telling evidence of the unusual consumption that resulted from being stuck indoors indefinitely— Amazon packaging, takeout bags and trash leftover from groceries purchased while wearing rubber gloves and sterilized in whatever way was possible and later consumed. These items shifted as the duration of the pandemic blurred into an unknown stretch of time. The portraits became less about those initial fears and more about confronting the boredom, anxiety, grief, and fatigue of living in indefinite isolation during a global pandemic. In total, I made these portraits for 377 consecutive days. I made the first portrait on March 30th, 2020, a day when my head was raging in pain, my throat was constricted, and the fear that I might have contracted COVID hung over me before testing was easily accessible. I made the last portrait on April 10th, 2021, the day I received my 2nd vaccination. The days, weeks, and months in between feel like a fever dream—frayed and flickering in multitudes of blue.

For the past 30 years, Sally Davies has been documenting the streets of Manhattan. She’s watched neighborhoods negotiate with gentrification, post-9/11 anxiety, economic uncertainty, and a steady stream of “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere” optimism. Davies has taken memorable photographs of ordinary doorways, wet curbs and corners, the glow of bar-grill signs, bodegas, bakery windows, wheelchairs on rooftops, incoming weather, graffiti, and vintage cars. As she has said, “You either fall in love with moonlight on a garbage bag or you hate it and move along.”* Davies started the New Yorkers by shifting from her usual view of the urban outdoors to the idea of chronicling the spaces and stories of the natives and transplants who give the city its particular vitality. In these portraits, you will meet waitresses, musicians, cab drivers, painters, teachers, shopkeepers, writers, designers, producers, parents, a gossip columnist, and a psychic to the stars, among others. They are singularly sensational, and they attest to multiple jobs, friendships, marriages, divorces, children, and pets. Young and old, straight and gay, casual and formal; they pose in cramped kitchens and elegant living rooms, laying on beds, sitting in bathtubs, surrounded by the surfaces and souvenirs of living. There is an abundance of brick, wood, leather, and metal, and collections of refrigerator magnets, religious and street art, books, Pez dispensers, vinyl records, and plants. These photographs and texts speak to what all New Yorkers understand—to live in this city is to embrace struggle, sacrifice, love, and change. When I spoke with Davies over breakfast in February 2020, I asked her what this project reveals. She said, “This is the end of an era.” That comment has returned to me repeatedly. This book went to print during a pandemic that stopped the world as we knew it. We were in our homes for hours on end, adapting to new habits, while thinking and feeling deeply about where and how we live. These New York people were right on time. by Stuart Horodner *Sally Davies in Michael Ernest Sweet’s “Photographer Sally Davies Discusses Women Street Photographers,” HuffPost (December 15, 2015)

Fugue State Revisited, is an on-going exploration of the future legacies of photography, with a focus on the life span of digital files. After the loss of a hard drive that held 20 years of analog scans, I received only half the files back in recovery. The rest of the files were corrupted, each totally unique in how the machine damages and reinterprets the pixels. This alarming result made me begin to consider ever-shifting digital platforms and file formats, and I realized that much of the data we produce today could eventually fall into a black hole of inaccessibility. The Getty Research Institute states, “While you are still able to view family photographs printed over 100 years ago, a CD with digital files on it from only 10 years ago might be unreadable because of rapid changes to software and the devices we use to access digital content.” As an analog photographer, rather than let the machine have the last word, I have cyanotyped over my damaged digital scans. I use silhouettes of portraits from my archives as a way to conceal and reveal the corruption. By using historical processes to create a physical object, I guarantee that this image will not be lost in the current clash between the digital file and the materiality of a photographic print. Fugue State Revisited calls attention to the fact that today’s digital files may not retain their original state, or even exist, in the next century. As we are reliant on technology to keep our images intact for future generations, it begs the question, who will maintain our hard drives after we are gone? Will we be able to conserve photographs that speak to family histories? These are important considerations for our visual futures, as we may be leaving behind photographs that will be reimagined by machines.

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