My work as an artist involves using experimental lens-based processes to visualize and engage with social and environmental research topics. Through self-directed and collaborative endeavors in optics, physiology, and material studies, I have been able to photographically simulate an afterimage—the physiological phenomenon that results in an image continuing to appear in the eyes after looking at the sun or at bright objects in the dark. This replication occurs through the development of custom-built cameras and artificial retinas that register the remains of light.
The initial research for this process began over a decade ago and involved mapping my own retina and incorporating that information into the production of an artificial retinal membrane. Utilizing a custom-built camera, I capture an image onto this membrane, which is made of light-sensitive strontium aluminate. Because these photoluminescent particles decay over time, they immediately begin to shift in color. In order to capture the degraded image before it dissipates, I expose the retinal membrane onto a sheet of large-format color film while allowing for movement and variation of time during this development to produce a variety of visual results.
Afterimages have a transgressive quality that appeals to me as an artist. They appear most strikingly when we use our eyes in ways that we shouldn’t—by staring at something too bright or holding our gaze for too long. When I moved to Louisiana, I was struck by the appearance of oil refineries at night; they looked like strange forbidden cities starting fires in the sky. I began to photograph the refineries, but I was quickly stopped by local police and told that I was not allowed to photograph these structures according to post-9/11 regulations. This experience heightened my interest in these sites as photographic subjects. Keeping a low profile, I began to document refineries up and down the Mississippi River with my afterimaging cameras. I set out to render the man-made landscape of the fossil fuel industry as ghostly and vanishing, an unearthly forbidden city that should be perceived as a relic of our destructive past.
Recently, I began to experiment with combining many pieces of large-format film into long panoramas. This expanded process allows me to give a better sense of the dominance these refineries have on the landscape and environment in our region. In the fall of 2020, I undertook a river expedition on the Lower Mississippi in order to create a long scroll showing all the visible light that the fossil fuel industry emits in Cancer Alley from the perspective of the River. This completed piece uses beauty as an access point to consider a transition away from harmful extractive practices and toward an environmentally sustainable future.
AnnieLaurie Erickson is a New Orleans-based artist and educator whose work engages with social and environmental research topics through experimental lens-based production. She is an associate professor and the head of photography in the Newcomb Art Department of Tulane University. Her work has been exhibited widely in the US and abroad, including Higher Pictures, NYC; Goethe-Institut, Washington, DC; Photographic Center Northwest, Seattle, WA; Newspace Center for Photography, Portland, OR; Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, NYC; Boston Center for the Arts; and CentrePasquArt, Bienne, Switzerland. Notable press includes The New Yorker, Huffington Post, Oxford American, Washington Post, Paper Magazine, Afterimage, and Foam Magazine. She received an ATLAS grant in 2016 to develop her project Data Shadows and has been awarded residencies from Yaddo, A Studio in the Woods, and the Joan Mitchell Center. Erickson earned her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. She has been a part of the Antenna Collective since 2015.