In conversation with Daniel Milroy Maher, August 2019.
Read the full article here. As always, the unedited interview is below. 

Can you tell me about yourself – where you’re from/based, how you got into photography etc?
I’m a British photographer based in Brighton but I’m originally from Exeter. I got into photography in my late teens, I went to Exeter School of Art which had well equipped darkrooms and a technician called Jeff who was really encouraging early on. Things went up a gear after studying it at the University of Brighton though. 

How did the Anarchy Tamed series come about?
Admittedly it happened by accident. I found out about Wasteland Weekend when I was researching pictures for a wider series called Preparations of the Worst-Case Scenario; a series that talks about anxieties for the future and media induced paranoia. Seeing there was a Mad Max themed festival in the middle of the desert I wanted to make a picture or two for the main series. When I got there I took a bit of a take pictures, ask questions later approach and ended up shooting a few boxes. A lot of the material felt more immediate and more reactionary than the main series, a visual language that felt totally different to the densely critical and considered pictures from the main series. So Anarchy Tamed is specially about a Mad Max festival in the Mojave Desert that was shot on location over a 5 day period.

Tell me more about your interest in this festival and the surrounding themes?
I was interested in how a low budget Australian B-Movie from 1979 went on to touch a cultural nerve to such an extent that it inspired a yearly gathering of thousands of people on the other side of the planet to live out the fantasy depicted in the film. The film is especially culturally significant because at the time of its release it was the most profitable film of all time, which it won a Guinness World Record for. Mad Max was set in a near future where society was beginning to collapse after fossil fuels ran out, a situation that doesn’t seem so distant anymore.  

What kind of atmosphere was there at the festival – was it convincingly post-apocalyptic?
People go to great lengths to get into character and immerse themselves in the fantasy that the world has ended. One thing that did catch me off guard initially though was that people shout “Fuck you” as a greeting. As threatening as everyone looks and acts, this is only the case until you get chatting. There is a sense of absolute inclusion, of brother/sisterhood, of everyone looking out for each other. It didn't matter where you were from or who you were, as long as you were dressed as a character from Mad Max, it was all good.

I had never been to a desert before so the harsh setting definitely helped getting into the right mind set. You had to bring all your own food and water, I couldn’t afford an RV so I was in a tent in 100F heat. I used 12 inch iron spikes to nail my tent down and attached a massive silver survival blanket over the top to reflect the heat. Again, not having any money as it was all self funded I ate from cans most days. So the survival aspect combined with costumes being mandatory and the set design did definitely add to the feeling the world had ended.

Aside from the costumes and decorations, what were people’s genuine thoughts on the future?
Most people I spoke to had pretty normally jobs, there was only a few that I met who were self proclaimed anti-establishment anarchists. From chatting to a good amount of people there I get the impression the festival offers  an escape from reality and a chance to experience what life might be like after societal and environmental collapse. It’s about living out a post-apocalyptic fantasy for a week, it has nothing to do with actual doomsday prepping.  

The general consensus though is that the world is going to shit. To quote the co-founder of the festival, Jared Butler, “I think for our event, it can be a way for some people to process the stress of an uncertain future. Because, even if it’s just for a few days, they can fantasize about an upside to a world falling apart and starting over.”

What happens at the festival? What do people do while they are there?
They have a restaging of a sport taken from the 1989 film The Salute of the Jugger, a tournament that takes place over several days and looks like a futuristic mixture of the 1990s game show Gladiators and American football. They have a post-apocalyptic themed bikini contest that uses a rusted boat salvaged from the film set of Universal Studio’s Waterworld (1995) as the stage. There’s a reconstruction of the Thunderdome from Mad Max 3 (1985) where participants can sign up to beat the shit out of each other with padded weapons whilst attached to bungee cords. As well as costume competitions, vehicle parades and an onsite postal service where they print physical newsletters of what’s happening around the festival site.

What were you trying to capture and communicate in the photos?
Most of my personal work is heavily researched and the picture making tends to be quite slow going so it was refreshing to shoot a series in a matter of days rather than years for once. But I guess I was interested in the absurdity of it all, why we need activities like this and what it says about the contemporary condition. 

How did people react to your presence/having their photo taken?
Surprisingly positively. Although I was dressed to blend in, I was still carrying around a massive black metal camera and flash unit so I did stand out as a photographer. I definitely played up to this lone wanderer photographer character. As soon as I would approach someone they definitely knew what I was about to ask. Unlike in the real world, I didn’t have anyone who didn’t want to have their picture taken. A couple of times people would see the camera and ask me to shoot their portrait. So it was all a very positive and productive experience. 

How did you feel leaving the festival and what are your own thoughts on the future?
After about day three I acclimatised to the environment and after it was over felt like I could have stayed for much much longer. But I feel that way after most festivals. 

I am an absolute optimist. My own opinion is that despite everything, we will always find a way to tackle climate change, overpopulation and resource depletion. I align my views with Boserup's theory that technological advancements will essentially ensure the world doesn’t go to shit. Ultimately, that necessity is the mother of invention. 

But the work is about how people turn to these post-apocalyptic narratives to deal with and to process an uncertain future. 


©Daniel Milroy Maher & It's Nice That 2019 - This text is for research purposes, no copyright infringement is intended.

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