Those Who Hear the Ticking
“The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” – Winston Churchill
“Both the photograph and the remembered depend upon and equally oppose the passing of time. Both preserve moments, and coexist. Both stimulate, and are stimulated by, the inter-connectedness of events. Both seek instants of revelation, for it is only such instants which give full reason to their own capacity to withstand the flow of time.” – John Berger
Those who hear the ticking was a phrase used by Hannah Arendt in her 1968 analysis of conflict, On Violence. It describes the first generation, those contemporary to the book’s publication, aware of the possibility of mutually assured destruction through nuclear war. As a child of this generation, I have always heard the ticking. It softened for a while, but today is louder than ever.
Like many who work with photography, I am interested in the photographs taken by others, particularly the anonymous “vernacular” photographs that exist outside the canon of photography. These instances extracted from the continuum of time suggest stories that like puzzle boxes, often need to be unlocked. Over the years I have amassed a collection of prints and negatives, with a particular interest in the negative; a miniaturised, half-way, potential photograph. The collection, a smorgasbord of visual history encompassing roughly a century up to photography’s migration to pixels, regularly occupies my mind. I continually think about the images and what they signify.
On February 24, I sensed that we had woken to one of those moments in time when everything changes. Having grown up with the traditions and culture of Ukraine, handed down from grandparents, the invasion felt close to home; with the rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin, a denial of a part of who I am. Almost immediately, the disparate photographs within my collection began to coalesce, interconnect, and form new constellations of meaning. As imagery from the invasion flooded in, the monochromatic views of a grainy past from within the collection began to lose abstraction and distance –– pulled uncannily closer and present. It soon became clear that the collection together was a metaphor for the in-and-out of conflict cycle of the world that we continue to live through.
Working in the solitude of the darkroom studio, my mind wanders through the imagery I have seen coming out of Ukraine; broken buildings, lost faces, and endless weaponry. Many I see reflected in the views within my collection. These are the negatives I select to work with. Through the act of printing, frozen shadows of the past are activated with the light and materials of today forming a photographic transmutation of past to present. Individually, the prints are stanzas that together form a visual narrative that looks backwards to see the present, and possibly further forward.