Telos by Clay Harmon

Issue 2

This idea for this project began because of a random collision between my work life and my after-work life. Last winter I began to truly hate my dutiful daily freeway commute to my job. Early darkness and gloomy skies put me in a profound funk about the arrangement of life and work in our modern cities. At about the same time that I began wallowing in this existential angst about commuting, I picked up Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" to read. I hungrily absorbed the book's dark and prophetic jeremiad on the future of humanity.

With my mind thus darkly seasoned, one evening as I was driving home late, I began to notice how visually interesting the nighttime freeway could be. My bituminous mood, the isolation in my own car, the darkness, the blurry ambiguity of passing structures - all of these things stimulated a feeling of being both unattached and also caught up in a flow over which I had very little control. I know a metaphor when I see one. So I decided to pour all this negativity into a photo project.

I began to take pictures of the nearly empty late night freeway. I used a small camera with fast film, and made very large palladium prints of the things that I saw. The idea quickly took shape into a photo project. The prints seemed to perfectly capture the feeling that I was being granted a sneaky preview of some sort of future nostalgia about the way we will have lived.

And why is 'telos' the title of this series? One of the feelings that I was trying to capture was the sense of inevitability, the feeling of being swept up in a flow toward some unseen destination. I was familiar with the word teleology, and it seemed related in some way to what I was feeling. This belief that events occur because they have some ultimate purpose or goal, and that past events have been 'designed' to get us to our present location is a strong comforting impulse that seems to underlie virtually every belief system in the world. It is fate, purpose, destiny, or karma, to put it simply.

I'm not so sure I buy into that notion, but I am certainly aware of the strong comforting attraction this idea has on us humans. When I began to look into the origins of this word, I found something interesting. The idea is originally a greek philosophical concept, but the latin language has a similar word, telum, that is used to describe a javelin or object that is thrown toward a target. It seemed pretty clear that there was some correspondence in meaning. But what was really interesting is that there is another latin word, tela, that means a web. This etymological ambiguity just seemed too perfect to pass up. Are we a javelin hurled toward some distant target, or are we caught in web? I think these photos may ask the question, but I am not sure they provide any concrete answer.

Clay Harmon lives and works in Asheville, NC.
To view more of Clay's work, please visit his website.