Is this what the end of the world looks like? Chris Maggio depicts an alternative apocalypse story
It may be terrifying times, but the New York-based photographer explains why we can also see current events as “a golden age of photojournalism”.
- Jyni Ong
- 2 March 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
In the past year or so, it wouldn’t be surprising if, from time to time, this question crossed your mind: is this the end of the world? Given all the virus-focused movies that have ever been made, it’s even more understandable. If you’ve thought about this in some capacity, the likelihood is that the speculative apocalypse may not have been a pretty one. But on the flip side, photographer Chris Maggio has presented us with an alternative, a much more entertaining and comical alternative. Here it is, his latest project titled Scenes from the Last Day on Planet Earth.
Previously, we’ve covered the New York-based photographer several times, with each project more bewitching and intriguing than the last. There’s the oxymoron series The New Age of The New Age in Arizona which he did a couple of years ago for Gossamer Magazine and most recently, it was his documentation of Sam Barsky – a man who knits world renowned landmarks onto jumpers – which set our hearts on fire for its incredible wholesomeness. Now however, he’s considering a better end of the world, one more appealing than the conspiracy theories might suggest.
“Instead of mulling over our own mortality as we wait for the world to come to a violent, harrowing climax,” he tells us, “what if things instead ended without us knowing about it at all? What if the last was as mundane as any other and then the band-aid was just ripped off?” The project, shot in characteristic crisp and candid Maggio style, is a kind of prelude to a disaster movie. Before the asteroid hits, before the monster arrives, and before the virus takes over, this is when Chris’ project takes place. He describes the atmosphere as “the audience are aware of the strange, foreboding signs of impending doom, but society within the film just goes about their day unaware. It’s a dramatic irony we’re all familiar with, and I hope the series changes something similar to it – especially as we continue to wade through uncertain cultural waters in 2021.”
In Chris’ mind, Covid is just part of a longer arc of decline which is inevitable during our time on this planet. The series, in turn, provides a glimpse of a world that is beginning to fracture and the ensuing consequences. In films that have seen a second wind of popularity due to the pandemic (Contagion or Independence Day for example) there is a lingering, suspense-filled air prior to the forthcoming carnage. “We think that we’re smarter than the fictional people in the movie,” says the photographer, “even though, in a way, these films are supposed to be representative of our relationships to one another in the real world.” And in this way, in Scenes from the Last Day on Planet Earth, we as viewers know something isn’t quite right, but whether the people in the photos know it is another question.
Shot across 20 different locations, Chris gravitated to spaces familiar to his childhood for the personal project. Hence the reason for the car parks and retail displays. As an American making work about the end of the world, Chris felt it appropriate that the work was myopic; “our worldview is very narrow, very solipsistic,” he adds. Though some eagle-eyed viewers may recognise certain locations, others feel like liminal spaces. Take for example, the image of a discarded Dunkin’ Donuts wrapper fortuitously laid out on a bed of fresh magnolia petals, almost a perfect match in pink seasonal colour. The eclectic range of locations united by Chris’ singular style achieves what he set out to do; he makes the series seem as if it could have happened anywhere.
There is one image in particular which stands out to Chris. It depicts a photo of a stork eating a slice of pizza. “I like the idea of the animal world perhaps enjoying some of the frivolous things humans have created as civilisation starts to crumble,” he says of the image, taken in an alley behind a strip mall in Kissimmee, Florida. Shot at dusk, the location of this image bears particular relevance to the overall context of the series. For one, Kissimmee is an area near Orlando where the overspill of tourism from Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World converges. Behind the small roadside attractions which bask in the shadow of these entertainment giants, there are often birds which lurk around hotels and other hospitality establishments to get their share of the tourism flow too.
Chris describes them as “four feel tall with these really scabby, rough looking heads. They feel so dark and cognisant, they’re kind of like these grim reapers or something.” In the moment where this photo took place, the two creatures, animal and human, stood watching each other. “I realised that we might have the same taste in food and perhaps even wanted some of the same things out of life,” the photographer observes. In a moment that could have easily passed the photographer by, it turned into “a weird feeling of kinship”.
In general, this current moment in time marks an interesting period for photographers documenting current events. Terrifying in many respects, for Chris, what we’re currently seeing is “the metastasising of an unfair society that’s been askew for some time.” By living in a country where the trusted pillars of society have let its people down, and plutocracy has become more evident, it’s an interesting time for a photographer capturing their surroundings. “I think it’s a golden age of photojournalism,” he finally goes on to say. “There’s been this unprecedented creativity in that sphere that I’ve never seen before… I want to take pictures that feel in between the cracks of these seismic, historic moments. They’re out there, but the path to finding them has become a bit more challenging.”
GalleryChris Maggio: Scenes from the Last Day on Planet Earth (Copyright © Chris Maggio, 2021)
New World: Take part in free virtual sessions with leading creatives
Join It's Nice That and Today at Apple for a series of hands-on virtual sessions and Creative Guides with top artists and designers!
Chris Maggio: Scenes from the Last Day on Planet Earth (Copyright © Chris Maggio, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.