While travelling around Palermo, Sicily, photographer Oliver Eglin came across a park with a dark past and a fascinating legacy. The Giardino Garibaldi – once a site for public execution – is home to Sicily's oldest living fauna, a fig species native to Australia that was introduced to the island in 1863. The bark of the Ficus macrophylla was once used for pigment for ancient rock paintings created by Australian Aborigines; now, in Palermo, the trees are etched with carvings by recent visitors to the park.
Oliver – who graduated from Middlesex University in 2010 with a BA in Photography – was drawn to the way the Giardino Garibaldi's twisting, gothic trees embodied their past whilst also reflecting the human desire to leave an imprint on one's surroundings.
"I became interested in the correlation between crude prehistoric drawings and contemporary [etchings]," he explains. "I think it's something everyone has a connection to, having scratched into trees and desks at school; it's a very basic urge and quite spiritual as well, a sense of leaving something behind, which also reflects back onto the field of photography. What makes me create images and want to leave this trace?"
These explorations became the basis of 'Markings', a photo series which was selected to appear as part of the 5 Under 30 showcase at East London's Daniel Blau gallery. The exhibition, now in its second year, celebrates the talent of photographers aged 29 and under and features five chosen winning works in the gallery space for one month.
An earlier work of Oliver's, taken from a project titled 'Berghain/Panorama', has also landed him on the shortlist for the Renaissance Photography Prize 2014. In this series, Oliver photographed revellers exiting the Berghain, an iconic East Berlin nightclub housed in a former power station.
"I'm interested in history and how space can be reassigned," he says. "There's a mysticism about the place." His subjects, emerging from the dark club into the harsh light of day, are caught between two worlds. "I didn't want to reveal too much; these people have had a fantastic hedonistic experience, and then they come out into the mundane real world," he explains. "I wanted to capture this moment of transition."
'Markings' is showing at Daniel Blau gallery in Hoxton Square, London until 31 July 2014. The Renaissance Photography Prize finalists' work will be on display from 8-20 September 2014 at Getty Images Gallery, London, with winners announced during the week of the exhibition.