The purpose of the Aperture Portfolio Prize is to identify trends in contemporary photography and highlight artists whose work deserves greater recognition. When choosing the first-prize winner and runners-up, Aperture’s editorial and curatorial staff look for innovative bodies of work that haven’t been widely seen in major publications or exhibition venues.
Functioning both as metaphor and exposition, Drew Nikonowicz’s series This World and Others Like It thrives in the growing chasm between reality and mediated fiction. Calling upon one of photography’s earliest uses—recording the vast, unexplored landscapes of the world—Nikonowicz brings forth a reality that is simultaneously uncanny and unknowable. The world we live in has been conquered and exhausted, his images seem to say, so we must turn to fictional or even extraterrestrial terrain instead.
While his monochromatic landscapes evoke awe of the sublime, something darker lurks in the crevices. The photographer draws on the language of nineteenth-century geographical surveys but presents a bleak twenty-first-century equivalent, where everything can be digitally rendered, and where measurements and numbers are the point of departure, not a goal of the endeavor. Through dark-hued landscapes and high-contrast portraits of rocks and shiny minerals, Nikonowicz not only calls into question the physical properties and realness of the earth’s building blocks, but also the way in which a distrust of images has become inherent to our experience of the world around us.
The only human figure represented in the series is the image of an astronaut, captured through a screen. Once the hero of the unknowable world, the space explorer has, like the photographer, become obsolete. As Nikonowicz writes, “Now the sublime landscape is only accessible through the boundaries of technology.”
Drew Nikonowicz (born in St. Louis, 1993) lives and works in Columbia, Missouri. His work employs computer simulations as well as analog photographic processes to deal with landscape and exploration in contemporary photography. He has been published in Der Greif magazine, and has shown work at Photokina, Cologne.