Bertien van Manen
Beyond Maps and Atlases
The rapacious threat of darkness was rapidly consuming the last glimmers of that day’s light, as crystalised raindrops penetrated every fibre of my impotent clothing. I was alone, clambering through the savage bracken of Ireland’s West Coast, in a desperate and hopeless scrabble to locate the refuge of my misplaced lodgings.
Some two decades have passed, but as I turn the pages of Bertien van Manen’s Beyond Maps and Atlases, I revisit the labyrinth of that day’s memory – thrust into the intersection between the forgotten, fragmented details of the tangible and the clouded folly of the imagined.
Beyond Maps and Atlases is a reflective journey through an unknown, mythical, rain-sodden landscape to a place that lies beyond the physical; a place that oscillates between the extinct and extant, between the circumstantial and the metaphorical, between life and death. Battered by wind, and largely smothered by the heavy gloom of an Irish night, it is a landscape inhabited by the mortal and the inevitability of our final consignment to its earthly vault.
In the wake of her husband’s death, Bertien van Manen embarked on a number of journeys to this ancient place, guided by the works of Seamus Heaney and propelled to explore an ‘elsewhere world’. Water is the dominant element, laminating the images with an inescapable layer of moisture: rain, rivers, lakes and seas, at once life-giving, choke the dialogue, a battleground of survival between the landscape and its inhabitants. The raw brutality of nature is potent, and the landscape is littered with the debris of mortality – an eviscerated carcass of a lamb, lying gutless and ravaged by scavengers, offering no consolations, just the prevailing silence of death.
Beyond Maps and Atlases is shackled to the final redundancy of life, tormented by loss and the vacuum that is left behind. This is a work embedded with a poignant mystery, from an artist who consistently discovers a poetic beauty in the intuitive and unremarkable. Here, nature is eternal and the characters that intervene in its narrative are fleeting and pass with little trace. This is a landscape haunted by ghosts and the finality of the last whispered goodbye. ♦
All images courtesy of MACK. © Bertien van Manen
Repetitive monochromatic cloudscapes, laden with tension and bleeding with the grain of the photographic emulsion, form the opening prologue to Daisuke Yokota’s latest work, Taratine. These menacing skies merge into the nebulous undergrowth of a forest and the ‘drooping breast roots’ of an ancient Gingko tree, a fertility-enhancing growth that lends its name to this work.
Taratine, like many of Yokota’s previous works, is a deeply sensory experience. It trades on an ethereal and textured visual language that is as distinctive as it is mysteriously seductive. The artist’s process – an alchemy of digital and analogue techniques combined with the physicality of the photographic materials he exploits – contort and abstract the scenes, allowing narrative to drift between the real and imagined, the past and present.
Entangled by the roots of the mythical Taratine tree, the women of Yokota’s life (mother and girlfriend) are united in this work. Taratine is a confessional ode to these women, to love – a delirious journey that weaves the precious frailty of a maternal love with the climactic desire of a sexual love. The perception of each of these states interacts, fades and mutates. As if emerging from a dream, we are thrown into a disorientating intervention, reconnecting dislocated character with isolated landscape, to understand what is not disclosed – to unite Yokata as the man, son and lover.
In an intimate accompanying essay, Daisuke Yokota recalls a vivid childhood memory of his mother’s momentary absence, and the potency of that memory in the present. That day’s anxiety is embedded in each shadow, repetition and alienated frame. It is cemented to Yokota, to the fragility of love and the fear of its loss. Taratine allows us to anchor our own fears, desires and memories to those of Yokota, in order to recollect and project, and to step into a landscape that appears so distantly familiar. ♦
All images courtesy of Session Press. © Daisuke Yokota
Dewi Lewis Publishing
The vaguely legible title page of Laia Abril’s The Epilogue, the delicate and muted letters of which induce the viewer into its inky dark paper stock, is a rather appropriate introduction to one of the most compelling and utterly affecting titles of recent years. The Epilogue is a portrait of grief, frustration and loss; a multi-layered and complex narrative that intricately reveals the aftermath of one young woman’s struggle with bulimia and her family’s witness to the illness’ brutality and destruction.
The Epilogue is a harrowing epitaph to the life of twenty-six year old Mary Cameron “Cammy” Robinson and one that Abril, with acute attention to detail, seamlessly weaves together from a collage of fragments. Nearly a decade after Cammy’s death, Abril assembles recollections, artifacts, documents and the author’s own imagery, with a sense of purpose akin to that of a forensic scientist, and in doing so creates a body of work that sits somewhere between memoir, photobook and memorial.
Those who loved Cammy guide the narrative, and the author allows their memories to drive the story forward with sincere purpose, while Abril’s own understated photography underpins Cammy’s absence in their lives today. The Epilogue’s chronology dances between what was and what now is, and between the two states lies anger, frustration, pain and a futile search for clues and answers – the inevitable why and what if, lingering over every spread of the book.
The impending finality of Cammy’s life is felt early in the narrative and it weighs heavy as the story unfolds – the increasing tension of which is astutely but delicately enhanced in both the thoughtful design of the book and the compassion and sincerity of the story’s delivery. The Epilogue’s concluding document confirms Cammy’s fate and although tragically inevitable, the overwhelming emotional response is something so rarely achieved within the parameters of a photobook.
All images courtesy of the artist. © Laia Abril/THE INSTITUTE
Linda Fregni Nagler
The Hidden Mother
Inhabiting a place between what is visible and what is not, The Hidden Mother is a collection of predominantly late-nineteenth century portraits, the principle subjects of which are present in frame but absent from view. They are mothers who have modestly sacrificed their own depiction in order to exultantly exhibit their precious infants as the centrepieces of the photographic ritual. In a bid to overcome the limitations of the extended photographic exposure, these women have transformed themselves into maternal armatures, concealed and camouflaged by various materials of domesticity, in order to anonymously cradle the subject of the commission.
Over the last decade, Italian artist Linda Fregni Nagler has accumulated over a thousand photographs containing hidden mothers, and in this work, has curated and defined a poignant new archive on the discourse of motherhood and of maternal absence. The repetitive gesture that lays at the centre of this narrative may be bound to the technical inadequacies of the medium at the time, but in denying themselves, these mothers speak vividly to the contemporary role of women in society; they illustrate how readily motherhood could be sacrificed to help reinforce and make explicit the connection between the child and the viewer of the photograph – for this distinction was the foundation of the portrait. The work also speaks to the catastrophic fear of infant mortality hung heavy in the Victorian family and for many, the photographic portrait was a posthumous event.
The Hidden Mother is a photographic casket of lost memories, of anonymous identities and compelling mysteries. The pragmatic book design enhances the experience of an inventory-like presentation of this work and in doing so, allows us to willingly consider, reconsider and distinguish what is visible and what is represented. In turning the page, we are seduced by sequence, by repetition and the evolving relationships between images and methods of concealment. In the act of searching for what is not visible, we are confronted with a mirror, one that poignantly reflects and haunts our own memories, resonating in the lost passage of time.
All images courtesy MACK. © Linda Fregni Nagler