Terrain Vague

I first began thinking about the concept of the ‘terrain vague’ in relationship to surrealist photography in the early 1990s, centring on a particular photograph with that title by Man Ray (see next page).

I developed it through the Dissertation for my Doctorate (1995) and the subsequent book City Gorged with Dreams (2002), where there is a chapter with that title: ‘Terrain vague’.

But I was also aware that it was a concept with great relevance for the work of contemporary photographers. When Paul Seawright invited me to contribute an essay to the catalogue of his 2000 exhibition in Salamanca, Spain, I decided to develop the concept of the ‘terrain vague’ in a broader direction.

Starting from that same Man Ray photograph, I extended the text to reference the Great War, American Abstract Expressionism and Berlin during the Cold War to end with Seawright’s photographs taken round the Parisian périphérique.

(The picture on this page is © Paul Seawright, ‘Undergrowth, Paris, 1997’ from his body of work Margins.)

Since then, the ‘terrain vague’ has become a very popular and much-referenced subject. There is surely much more to be said, but perhaps that popularity is also now an issue.

H Seawright, Undergrowth, Paris, 1997