And then, Kittens playing

I learned of the Journey of a Photograph Project from my friend Nicole, who I met while we were both kicking around as Artists in Residence at The Banff Centre earlier this year (Hi Nicole!). In the rest of my real life I’m a photographic artist from Australia, and my work deals with a lot of that weirdness that comes along with the photograph being a physical thing you can hold, and how bizarre it is that we have spent so many generations creating and destroying little worlds in our hands that we just think of it as normal. It’s kind of like how absurd dreaming is.

In 2012 I co-founded a darkroom and photographic facility with fellow artist Aurelia Carbone, which has since provided all kinds of excuses to explore this subject in parallel with my arts practice. The work I make is mostly analogue in nature because I love making photos with my hands, and I love how it reinforces the tactility of the image. This darkroom has made for a great opportunity to work with loads of conservators, artists, scientists and researchers from loads of different backgrounds, which has led to having extensive chats and cups of tea. It’s really the only way to do your research.

I like photographs as things, as dearly held props in the performance of remembering and belonging, and as ephemeral artefacts that have had magic instilled into them. During this time in Banff I was also beginning to hash out the outline of my own mail-based photographic project, so Nicole suggested this one as a great parallel. I signed up and received my little parcel some months later, now back home in Australia. 

The first thing that struck me was that I couldn’t quite tell what “The Photograph” was, going through the parcel. Over it’s journey it’s acquired mementos of it’s travels, tickets, drawings, flags, responses, a little bundle with memories breathed into it and sent on its way. The journey of the photograph had, at some point, became a travelling album of it’s adventures.

I once got to spend a very gratuitous summer nosing through family photo albums in the collection of the State Library of South Australia, as part of a research project. My single most favourite album was unassuming, uncatalogued, and proudly displayed a circular stain from a coffee mug on it’s leather cover. It was also unfinished, and felt unstuck from it’s original context. It had no names, no notes in the margins to go on, just the content of the photographs which approximately dated it to the time of the First World War, in Adelaide, Australia.

It began with photographs of happy people having picnics in the hills, and was then slowly invaded by photographs of soldiers marching through the city and being farewelled as they boarded ships. A portrait of one particular young man in a soldier’s uniform featured prominently on one page, and then photographs of rallies to raise funds for the war, carnival games and signs poking fun at “the kaiser”, followed by a single photograph of a memorial listing the names of the dead for this one small town. And then, Kittens playing. The last photographs were simple – a handful of black and white photographs of two kittens playing in the grass, and that was all. It was followed by dozens of blank pages.

Albums are wonderfully disjointed narratives, they don’t just abide by how many pages there happen to be in the album – they stop when they stop, and they don’t always leave you clues. It reinforces something particularly curious – photographs lose and acquire new meaning all the time, they function as referents for the viewer, prompts and props for performing knowing, providing new meaning in the place of remembering. They carry weight, and a weight that can hit you hard. And the life of the photograph itself offers clues and cues in this act of knowing as well – the bends, creases, fingerprints and coffee stains all afford us insights and avenues to engage, things we can grab onto to provide a place for the image in the context of our own lives.

I was glad to see that The Photograph had accumulated the weight of it’s adventure, mementos of it’s travels. I left it with my own contribution, packaged it up, and it’s off on it’s next adventure.