Noon in the Desert - Annabel Elgar
9 November - 25 November 2018
Noon in the Desert is taken from the opening line of William E Stafford’s poem, ‘At the Bomb Testing Site’, and is a series of photographs which explores the replica neighbourhoods, constructed at the nuclear weapons test sites in Nevada during the 1950s, in order to measure the effects of nuclear detonation. As a project, it emerged in response to a tourist postcard I came across of the Las Vegas casino, The Pioneer Club, in which a mushroom cloud can be seen looming over the Nevada desert in the distance. The two localities, known as ‘Doom Town’ and ‘Survival Town’, were designed to reflect a generic image of American post-war suburbia and were populated by a series of costumed mannequins, strategically placed in mock-up homes.
Vehicles, buildings and shelters were placed at various distances from ‘ground zero’, and cameras strategically located to capture the effects of the explosions. Filled with household goods and factory produced furniture, some of which was still in its packaging, displaying shop floor tags, the rooms embodied the American dream. Clothed mannequins were posed at the dinner table or gathered around the television.
Located sixty five miles north-west of Las Vegas, the Nevada test site was part of the United States’ nuclear weapons testing programme. A series of tests was carried out in 1955. Operation Teapot was the most extensive; the various tests within Teapot were named Wasp, Moth, Tesla, Turk, Hornet, Bee, ESS, Apple-1, Wasp Prime, HA, Post, MET, Apple-2 and Zucchini.
The atomic tests became tourist attractions, as day trippers, flocking to the Nevada desert with their specially purchased viewing glasses, picnicked under the shadow of the cloud, while Las Vegas hotels and casinos tapped into the burgeoning market, offering event tickets and memorabilia.
Following in the tradition of Frances Glessner Lee’s The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, I became interested in how the forensic use of the miniature subverts the innocence of the doll’s house aesthetic, in order to recreate complex histories. Taking found archival photographs of the two test site towns as my source, Noon in the Desert became a re-creation of their interior and exterior spaces, reworked in miniature form.
Annabel Elgar is a photographic based artist who lives in London. She was one of eight nominees for the inaugural Prix Elysée 2014-2015 with her project 'Cheating the Moon', shown at the Musée de L'Elysée in Lausanne in Spring 2015. Elgar has an MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art; her work has featured in exhibitions throughout Europe and North America, including Theatres of the Real at FotoMuseum Antwerp (accompanied by a Photoworks book); in the book and exhibition New Photography in Britain at the Galleria Civica di Modena, Italy; in Contemporary Photography from north-west Europe at the Fondazione Fotografia Modena, Italy. She has had two solo shows at the Wapping Project, London and at Metronom, Italy and has exhibited at amongst others, Kunsthalle Lophem, Belgium; Zephyr Centre for Photography, Mannheim, Germany; Sweet Briar College, Virginia, USA (in a three person show with Gregory Crewdson and Justine Kurland); New Art Gallery Walsall, UK; Galerie Polaris, Paris, France; the Museum of New Art, Detroit, USA; Extra City, Antwerp, Belgium and apexart, New York, USA. Elgar's work has featured in Source Photographic Review (Source 69), the Belfast Photo Festival (selectors Brett Rogers and Alec Soth) and in Photography is Magic at Aperture, New York, USA, curated by Charlotte Cotton. Her work is in several public collections including the Musée de L'Elysée, Lausanne, Fondazione Fotografia Modena, Italy and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, USA.