Roger Palmer contributes a brief on his latest book 'Phosphorescence' to the Nauru Project

Roger Palmer’s book, Phosphorescence (Fotohof edition, Salzburg / WAX366, Glasgow, 2014), examines tropical landscapes, vernacular buildings, and industrial zones in the Republic of Nauru. 47 colour photographs document publicly accessible spaces of Nauru under different daylight conditions. Beginning at sunrise and ending shortly before sunset, the sequence presents a chronology of changing light values encountered close to the equator.
Phosphorescence was part of the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme and supported through the 20 for 14 awards for individual artists to create work inspired by the unique cultural social, political and historical contexts of the Commonwealth and Glasgow’s hosting of the XX Commonwealth Games. The book includes an introductory text by the artist. This is presented below followed by a selection of photographs from the project. The full sequence can be viewed at:

A fluorescence that persists after the bombarding radiation
producing it has stopped. (Collins English Dictionary)

The Republic of Nauru lies 60 km south of the equator in the western Pacific Ocean. Occupying 21 km² and with a population of fewer than 10,000, Nauru is the world’s smallest island nation. In the late 19th century, Nauru was claimed as a colony by Germany. After World War One, it became a League of Nations Mandate with Australia, New Zealand and the UK as trustees. During World War Two the island was occupied by Japanese troops. Nauru became an independent republic in 1968.
Over the past 100 years Nauru’s economy has comprised a period of extraordinary industrial wealth followed by rapid post-industrial decline. In 1910 rich phosphate deposits were discovered on the island. The phosphate may have been formed from seabird guano or other organic matter trapped between the raised limestone coral pinnacles of the island’s interior. Several decades of phosphate mining provided Nauru with a source of considerable wealth. At the time of independence, its standard of living was among the world’s highest, and as a welfare state it provided free healthcare and education. Most of the mining profits were, however, quickly dissipated and Nauru was deprived of its primary income source when phosphate deposits were largely exhausted. Much of the island’s landscape was left stripped and devastated.
In 2002, Nauru’s economy was supplemented by Australian aid in exchange for constructing offshore Refugee Processing Centres (RPCs) on the island. This was part of Australia’s Pacific Solution policy of transporting asylum seekers to detention facilities on island nations in the Pacific Ocean, rather than allowing them to land on Australian soil. After a period of closure in 2008, the Australian Government re-adopted the Pacific Solution and the Nauru refugee camps were re-opened in 2012. As well as providing employment for Nauru citizens, the RPCs are staffed by Australians, many of who pass through the tiny airport on three-weekly rotations from Brisbane. In 2014, small numbers of refugees who have been granted temporary residence after lengthy periods held in the camps now live in portable housing compounds on the island.
With a hot, humid climate and an acute lack of space for cultivation, post-industrial Nauru has fresh produce only when a shipment arrives by sea or air. Pollution from mining has also led to the depletion of fish stocks in surrounding waters. The small supermarkets on the island primarily offer canned, packaged and frozen foods, as do the numerous, mostly Chinese operated, local convenience stores; the many small Chinese restaurants also rely on these products.
Most public facilities are situated close to the 19 km loop road that follows the island’s coastline and to a spur road that encircles a freshwater lagoon. On the ravaged and inhospitable interior plateau known as Topside, some phosphate mining has resumed close to the high security RPC camps. Here, on gravel roads, mini-buses transport employees and detainees between RPC facilities and trucks carry boulders or crushed rock to a phosphate stockpile and a dilapidated processing plant. A conveyor belt system is used to transfer processed phosphate directly into the holds of ships anchored offshore.
I stayed at the Menen Hotel, one of only two on Nauru, for 18 days. Cycling the island’s roads each day in fierce tropical heat, I was warmly received by Nauruans everywhere, with the exception of areas close to the RPC facilities where Australian security staff suspected me of being a visiting photo-journalist (earlier in 2014, increasing media attention on the plight of refugee detainees was followed a 4000% rise in visa application fees for visiting journalists).
My visit to Nauru as a guest artist was timed to coincide with the hosting of the XX Commonwealth Games in my home city of Glasgow, Scotland, and The Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme, a nationwide cultural celebration accompanying The Games. Sports facilities on Nauru are poor: I saw one severely rutted Australian Rules football field, two tennis courts and two gyms. Nevertheless, as with every other edition of the Games since 1990, an athlete from Nauru, the smallest nation of the Commonwealth, won a medal in Glasgow.
Perhaps the most popular exercise facility is the airport runway. Each day, after the plane has left, it assumes an alternative function as an evening recreation area. On the other side of the island, Nauruans, Australians, and groups of refugees with temporary residence status arrive before dusk to swim in Anibare Bay Community Boat Harbour. Here, in warm and sheltered waters, a possible future for a post-colonial, post-industrial Nauru might be imagined.
Roger Palmer, Glasgow 2014

Roger Palmer, 'Phosphoresence 3', 2014
Roger Palmer. 'Phosphorescence 10', 2014
Roger Palmer, 'Phosphorescence 15', 2014
Roger Palmer, 'Phosphorescence 20', 2014
Roger Palmer, 'Phosphorescence 23', 2014
Roger Palmer, 'Phosphorescence 29', 2014
Roger Palmer, 'Phosphorescence 36', 2014
Roger Palmer, 'Phosphorescence 45', 2014