Latitude 34 has been featured in Tonelit, an online photography magazine featuring the works of established and upcoming photographers. It wonderfully written by Katie Stretton. Check it out and subscribe! It is definitely one to add to your monthly reader.
On the Same Line – Essay by Katie Stretton
A look at ‘Latitude 34’ by Malika Sqalli
We could say that as human beings we have an almost instinctual habit to attempt to locate ourselves in our surroundings and thus understand our world and our experience a little more through this.
For Malika Sqalli this body of work was arguably conceived in 2010 when, in Los Angeles the light surrounding her seemed curiously familiar and she soon realised that she was at 34°02 latitude. For most of us this piece of information would warrant little more than an acknowledging facial expression before continuing with our travels, however for Sqalli, this realisation has shaped the next few years of her life; latitude 34°02 is the exact same latitude as Rabat, Morocco – the city of her birth. (It was also Sqalli’s 34th year).
Within a week Sqalli was on the road, making what could be described in some ways as a pilgrimage along latitude 34°02, and what was meant to be a small single show turned evolved into an ongoing piece of work with a second chapter aptly titled, ‘I Walk the Line’.
In the opening words of ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’, David Abram says ‘humans are tuned for relationship.’ It is often said that ‘no man is an island’ and yet with the population at the highest it has ever been we find that mental health problems as well as problems of loneliness and disconnection are quite possibly at their highest also.
It is most likely impossible to find anyone who has not at some point wondered what someone on the other side of the world, or the other side of the ocean is doing at any given moment. Whilst we find ourselves divided by these almost incomprehensibly huge areas of water or land there are these pockets of curiosities that are invariably shared. Sqalli not only found this when meeting people whilst travelling but also that her interest in this latitude was a shared one – shared with someone in North Carolina who got in touch with her through this shared curiosity. Jeremy, at 34.02, was exactly across from Rabat.
The spaces that Sqalli explores arguably speak equally of connection and disconnection. The vast swathes of desert, ocean and snow leave the viewer wondering what places and populations they are both separating and linking; an effect heightened by the harsh horizon lines which often cut through the middle of the image like the crosshairs in a pair of binoculars. Sqalli presents us with a unity across her images showing connections in trans-continental triptychs with landscapes often seemingly so interchangeable that many people might pass over them when trying to record landmarks or details of different places for posterity.
The light quality of a place in photographs is often something we take for granted, connecting it with countries or continental areas of the globe. The images featured in ‘Latitude 34°’ use this, perhaps almost naivety, to in a way surprise the viewer by furthering the likenesses along the line; one could almost believe that the images were all made within a much smaller area of the world.
The exploratory nature of Sqalli’s work reminds us of the work of Francis Alÿs, for whom the process of travelling is the work, but with ‘Latitude 34°’ this is only the beginning. The latitude line in question acts as a metaphorical geographical marker in a reference ellipsoid – used because of their relative simplicity in comparison with the uneven and ever changing surface of the earth – as well as engaging the viewer to consider this notion of a metaphorical line.
Our world is governed by lines – physical and metaphorical. Crossings, roads, queues, paths, corridors and countless others act as components making up part of our daily physical and social interactions. Rob Forbes discussed in 2006 how the lines and shapes presented to and acted by us in our environment can shape the way we engage with the world and others in it at various different levels – such as personal, local and global. Let us not forget that a key factor in how we experience and formalise time relies on the existence of the partnering longitudinal lines, intersecting the latitudinal. If we begin to consider lines in this way it often runs the risk of becoming a negative comment.
Lines often carry connotations of an order and conformity associated with negativity, but for Sqalli the line, this line in paticular has offered much more. In ‘Latitude 34°’ the line offers a contemplation about similarity, difference and the experiences of these. There is also a powerful sense in which this line and the ‘pilgrimage’ and work which stemmed along this line also offers a sense of adventure and freedom, not just for the viewer but also a personal one for Malika.
All text copyright © Katie Stretton 2013. All rights reserved.