Dust to dust

Studio windowsill; April 2018; Digital C type

 Originally the project was about how we establish identity through recording time. I was planning to explore it through looking at how photography reveals presence by capturing absences in stories eg: through negatives, shadows, shutters and the involuntary/sub conscious , and my methodology was based on shadow catching. 

“One’s relationship to one’s own shadow -which is not the same as oneself, which one does not own, but which is an inescapable attribute and accompaniment, was for me a memorable conundrum. A midpoint between between a familiar self and the otherness of the rest of the world. It is both of one and separate from one’. Wiliam Kentridge, In Praise of Shadows, 2009 p20.

Most of my work takes place within Shadow Dial Studies. A research based practice that uses shadow catching as a photographic method to measure time and map place. I regularly use shadow casting as a way to explore ideas yet never autobiographical aspects of myself or others. I decided to begin doing this with my Dad as my partner and planned to find participants who would work with us by partnering up with a friend or family member of a different age for the project.

Little did I know that this project, and in fact my whole practice, was primed to be about grief and mourning and the stupefying shock of absence.

Suddenly and unexpectedly my Dad died while out on his motorbike. Throughout the unforgiving bafflement of his wake I photographed. The closing shutter satisfied the incessant mental searching. The rush of photographic process defined and structured (my) loss. I drew back from my work plans as collaborating with him sat firmly in another life.

Within a fortnight of his funeral I installed an exhibition in Centre for Contemporary Art in Derry that had been planned months before. At the opening night as I watched my three key pieces; Cinders, Dust and Blue Room Shadow maps, I finally felt connected again.

The Shock of Now; Wake; The Happy Gazebo; B&W hand printed collage; May 2019

I was used to (my) photography being swathed in theory underpinned with references to death, but never this way round, (my fathers) death, my state of grief swathed in theories of photography. I wanted proof of ghosts when he died, I got instead,  proof of photography. I have never been so grateful for it, the medium was all I wanted, or needed to work with.

The original project rapidly reformed and refocused to use and understand the process of photography as a tangible form of mourning and a container for grief. Through working with the absence of my Dad rather than with ‘him’, I realised the traumatic, rapid and radical shift in my reality had not shifted my work away from its original concern. The subject matter had changed but the underpinning ideas were the same. As I reworked the project proposal I knew I needed to make work slowly and in a very solitary way while craving to know how others coped with loss, how did they grieve, how did they mourn. When I was able to formulate what was going on into words I wrote a revised project proposal; “The main works in progress are now in three parts to reflect my sense of folded time; Future, present and past i) Foreboding; ii) The shock of Now; iii) Absent History“.

Absent History; Motorbike trip; Scanned snapshot 1990s

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