Yogan Müller
Practice-Based PhD Thesis
Brussels, Belgium, 2012-2018


Paysage : De démarche en (dé)construction photographique is a practice-based PhD thesis carried out between October 2012 and November 2018 at ENSAV La Cambre and Université libre de Bruxelles (Brussels, Belgium). It was one of the first practice-based PhDs to be delivered by the aforementioned institutions.

In this work, I show how photography has been instrumental in making us enter the geological picture of the Anthropocene. By exploring how photography’s birth and usages are deeply tied to the industrial acceleration of the 1840s, that is, to the growing use of energy and our capacity to alter the physical world, I challenge the now classic claims of “neutrality” and “detachment”. None of what made photography so important and central in the West since the 1850s can be seen as an act of neutrality or detachment. To the contrary, photography contributed to the continual extension of the West’s radius of action while solidifying a transformative–and perhaps predatory–attitude towards the depicted far-flung places at the same time.  

The landscape of SW Iceland–and more specifically the Reykjanes peninsula–served as a photographic proving ground. Reykjanes is where about two thirds of the Icelandic population live. It is circumscribed by the international airport of Keflavík to the west and the Capital Region (Höfuðborgarsvæðið) to the east. With the number of tourists visiting the country going exponential from 2010 onwards, I could see the transformation of the peninsula take place upon each visit. Off the beaten tracks and behind the scenes of this orchestrated deterioration brought about by “nature-based tourism”1, abandoned industrial expansions near powerlines, quarries, new developments and gravels roads, offered the inevitable–and somewhat tragic–spectacle of the human agency.

I first intuitively and then clearly recognized that I was also to be held accountable for transformations I was drawn to in the landscape. Towards the end of the PhD, I tried to approach and photograph that fundamental and irreducible dynamic: physical change has to occur so as to make taking pictures not only possible but all the more interesting.

The thesis became an editorial project that aimed to shift the accepted boundaries of an academic thesis, both in its content and form. It was bound by hand by Trois Studio in Brussels in September 2018.

(1) Án Áfangastaðar, that is, without destination as agroup of Icelandic artists suggested back in 2011 in an eponymous exhibition. See the Listasafn Reykjavíkur website.