In his series Fallout, the Irish photographer Johnny Savage depicts interior spaces of building projects that came to a halt in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008. Part of the so-called PIIGS, Ireland was amongst the countries hardest hit by the financial tsunami that wrecked, and continues to wreck, the European periphery. As is discernible in Savage’s series, when credit lines dried up, large-scale construction projects were simply mothballed – even if they were tangibly close to completion.
Savage approaches his subject matter with an acute awareness for consistency. All images in the book depict an interior space of an unfinished construction project. Photographed at a slight angle through large window panes, Savage’s images purposefully reflect the space immediately outside of these unfinished building sites, thus creating an odd juxtaposition between the interior and exterior, or the private and the public. In his series Savage photographs a new type of landscape that captures the destructive forces of capitalism, hereby evoking the work of his compatriot Mark Curran.
Another aspect that visually and conceptually binds this body of work together is that all images were taken at dusk or in bad weather conditions. Many images feature dark clouds gathering in the reflected sky above, indicating that the crisis of 2008 continues to have a strong grip on Ireland which suffers from high youth unemployment, a mental health crisis and unending economic stagnation. Apart from areas of relative wealth in and around Dublin, for most of Ireland the notion of an ‘economic recovery’ is a myth that bears little resemblance with reality.
The absence of people in this work, and indeed the absence of any signifiers of human interaction, alludes to the large number of Irish men and women emigrating in the hope of a better future elsewhere. It’s not just the building projects that look abandoned in Savage’s work. The streets, parks and buildings visible in the reflection – they too look abandoned. These are dark, empty and generally uninviting places. They have become a type of No Man’s Land and it is hard to imagine how they can be brought back to life.
In light of the above, Savage’s work resembles the type of photographs taken on an archaeological excursion: here is an ancient land that, for a short period of time in its history, experienced a period of high economic growth. This was followed by an immediate collapse. Like the forever frozen bodies of the citizens of Pompeii, the Ireland photographed by Savage looks as if it has come to a complete standstill. The occasional light bulb shining in the reflected distance only adds to this sense of apocalypse.
The bigger point that needs to be deduced from this body of work is that nearly ten years since the financial crisis, not much has changed. Buildings are still standing empty as much as banks are still being reckless. Savage has photographed a country taken as hostage, though in truth the same images could have been taken in any number of European cities – not just in the so-called PIIGS. Fallout is a type of proto-landscape of a late capitalist system in perpetual crisis.
– reviewed by Marco Bohr
Fallout by Johnny Savage was published by and is available from The Velvet Cell.