the birth of a nameless island
Aerial photographs (1943 – 2013), courtesy of the Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen, Denmark.
C-prints mounted on MDF, oil paint
20@ 21 cm x 14.8 cm
I visited the sprightly manager of the cartographic archive on the top floor of the Royal Library in Copenhagen, housed in a building called Den Sorte Diamant – The Black Diamond. I inquired about islands that may be depicted in old maps but no longer exist, or islands that are nowhere to be found in the library collection because they were born in the 1990s or later. He gave a friendly huff of disbelief, and then together we referred to a digital archive of aerial photographs taken during the last century. I wanted to find the moment when my island, the nameless one that lolls near the shore of the Odense Fjord, appeared.
These images were taken as a collection of fragments of various larger projects to document the territories of Europe. Some were taken by the Germans in the 1940s, some taken by the Americans during the Cold War, presumably as an automatic shutter function, and who knows if any of the passengers involved happened to glance down through the otherwise “blind” lens or air to see the particular fraction of a square acre I was interested in.
The island isn't yet visible in any of the images taken in the 20th century, and then there's a decade of photos between 1993 and 2003 wherein they didn't bother to photograph so far offshore, so there's an abruptly placed swatch of generic cyber blue covering the water and the inchoate island that would be there. Then an aerial photo from 2004 lifts the 10-year veil (as that area must have been deemed worthy to shoot again?), and so a sand mound is suddenly visible in what looks like a hesitant materialization between land and sea.
After some years, the island starts to come into its own and becomes more convincing as an autonomous piece of sturdy land, no longer at risk of being pulled under or plunging back into its old aqueous habits. Plant life can be seen from above. Who knows if anyone has ever really noticed this or that photo frame. I wonder if anyone has since looked at this particular lump of land, benignly breaching the sea.