Amidst the Fire, I am not Burnt

‘Amidst the Fire, I am not Burnt’ is an experimental documentary approach of the iconic landscape shaped by Mount Vesuvius. The April 1872 eruption – the first volcanic eruption ever photographed – is the starting point: a violent cataclysm causing devastation and death. Four major eruptions have followed since, with the next eruption dangerously looming. ‘Amidst the Fire, I am not Burnt’ researches the different temporalities, scientific and popular approaches, historic and present-day photographic representations, and stories inscribed in the landscape. It interweaves documentary writing and photography in a constellation of subjects ranging from the historic and present-day observatories, breadcrust bombs, a parking lot inside the mountain, Neapolitan outskirts, superstitious residents, derelict quarries, antennas, chunks of lava, souvenirs, a muon tracker, marble plaques, twelve students that perished near the crater, vegetation, archaeological sites, government workers around a bonfire and lovers parked along the nightly road leading up the volcano.

‘Amidst the Fire, I am not Burnt uses documentary photography as a research perspective into a landscape that is documentary in its own right, as the slopes of petrified and overgrown lava sense, store, shape and transmit information. As each eruption adds a layer upon a previous one, the documentary possibilities of photography seem limited to what’s visible at the surface. This surface is part of a cyclical narrative. Each eruption leads to the next cataclysm, each period of quietude to forgetfulness and complacency. ‘Amidst the Fire, I am not Burnt’ departs from the properties classically attributed to documentary photography – its said potential to approach a subject ‘in depth’, to ‘uncover’, to lay bare a ‘hidden and deeper truth’ – and opens new and radical possibilities. In considering the literal and figural surface as ground for documentary, ‘Amidst the Fire, I am not Burnt’ appears as series of photographic documents embedded in a speculative, narrative constellation.

Amidst the fire, I am not burnt
Arnout De Cleene
Michiel De Cleene
2024
Roma Publications 462
Designed by Roger Willems and De Cleene De Cleene
Printed by Wilco Art Books
ISBN 9789464460520
162 pages, 24 cm x 30,5 cm, softcover
35,00 EUR

‘Amidst the Fire, I am not Burnt’ was shortlisted for the C/O Berlin Talent Award 2023 ‘New Documentary Strategies’ and will be published in 2023 by Roma Publications. The project is part of the research project ‘Documenting Objects’ at KASK & conservatorium, School of Arts, Gent.

A preliminary version of the project appeared in an issue of the journal Trigger, published by FoMu (Antwerp Museum of Photography), dedicated to the theme of uncertainty. The issue can be ordered here.

TRIGGER 'Uncertainty', p 26-27