A continuous slow movement (drift camera)

A camera to consider drift as a force in photography and in forests.

I became aware of the continuous slow movement of drift while teaching students about the political ecology of colonial forestry practices on Vancouver Island. Through the process of erasure, dispossession and construction that industrial forestry relies upon, forests are created as trees, logs and timber, harvested, moved into water, and transported to sort yards for processing. Within the certainty of colonial and capitalist extraction, a number of logs escape — they become fugitives — and are carried on currents, storm surges and high tides.

Drift log photograph in the Salish Sea showing Ocean, Olympic Mountains and a balancing log on a rock. 2018. Trudi Lynn Smith

An ongoing process of drift and accumulation enmeshes these fugitive forests within everyday practices and relations: logs become stabilizing and destabilizing to changing shoreline ecologies and more than human worldings; they are brought into formal and informal salvage economies, they become formal properties of an aestheticized experience of leisure.

Thinking about forests through the principle of drift can displace them from distant, utopian, colonial, capitalist constructions: Forests are not pristine redemptive, untouched Edens, nor are they active and orderly harvests, rather, they are contested, complex and unpredictable relations between humans and more than humans. They exceed spatial boundaries, they are lively, relational, and on the move.

Photograph showing the installation of the drift camera at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by Trudi Lynn Smith

View inside the drift camera

The drift log is an invitation to consider the effects of other drifting things. For example, how is drift a key force in fugitive spills of oil or diluted bitumen? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (USA) and other groups use drift cards — pieces of paper placed in the water — to learn about the direction of ocean currents. They are often released as a part of oil spill response drills and Tsunami response research.

To recognize drift demands an ethos of uncertainty, an unsettling of rationalist versions of the human being and colonial will to control with all of the negative impacts they generate. What are our obligations of care for drift and unpredictability?

Acknowledging drift reflects different ways of ordering reality, a world to be encountered together. Outside of the gallery, groups are invited to align themselves with the principles of drift through embodied practices of conversation and a wearable camera form. Shrouded within a darkcloth, a person becomes infolded with the camera. Inside, the relationship between photography and the fixed image is severed. In human-camera the fleshy and the fleeting are mixed, connected through sound, haptics, muffled conversation, and the uncertain image. The ongoing movement of the world is activated through shifting tensions and a co-created image drifts into and out of existence: Elusive, open-ended and fragmentary. Site-specific Drift Camera Prototype events were located on the edge of the Salish Sea, on the lands of the Lekwungen people, the Songhees and Xwsepsum Nations.

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