Three Versions of Judas, 2, Berriedale, Orkney, March, 1984. (printed 1984). Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18×24 cm negative.
Three Versions of Judas, 1, Berriedale, Orkney, March, 1984. (printed 1984). Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18×24 cm negative.
Borges was an oracular historian. When I read his short story, Three Versions of Judas, my understanding of time (not linear) and perspective (not just visual, and not just from one, two or three points of view) began to drop into another realm. During the same period of making these photographs, the story helped me ‘enter’ the platinum-palladium printing process in a way I had not achieved till then, and to break out of the language of black and white silver gelatin printing. This print, and the two related versions of Judas coming up, brought everything together for me: Zen and Borges, animated objects in front of the lens, images with their own center of gravity, dimensionality in the print that was free of tonal extremes, and recognizing the singular vernacular of platinum/palladium prints.
Medals for the Gladiator, (i), Berriedale, Orkney, 1984. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18x24cm inch negative.
This is the first (left-hand) part of a diptych. I’ll post the right-hand part tomorrow.
These, along with the recently posted and early ‘Campsite for the Non-Citizen’ photographs, anticipated a later group of works by that same name. And all of these arose from a troubling (to me) sense of a kind of civil order that began to bud with the Reagan/Thatcher era. The West’s reaction to 9-11, the rise of fundamentalist and populist/nationalist undertows, and this latest madness with the Trump administration, along with neoliberal interludes merrily danced to by centrist, so-called lefties leaves me feeling more in sync with images like the one above than ever before.
There was a time when I really thought this work was fanciful and mannered. Now, I am left scratching my head and wondering how could I have ever done this, and where did it come from. It speaks the kind of truth that only oracles are privileged with, and only occasionally singes the rest of us. I’m burning.
Campsite for the non-citizen, Berriedale, Orkney, 1984. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18x24cm negative.
Continuing on this rather dystopic drone, here’s one of the strangest photographs I have made. It borders on ugly. But it came from near-brushes with being stateless and a refugee. Trying to rise above the tug of my personal experiences, I tried, and keep trying to understand, what pulls us to behave xenophobically. There is a Darwinian argument for this, but I am also interested in other ways of thinking about the matter. Xenophobia, hate, territory (terror), nationalism lean into the edges of our humanity. Either a one or a zero. These are states of mind and experience that are approach-paths to what we consider absolute values, but driven by a denial of the absolute.
A bit like Zeno’s turtle, where there never is an end-point, the consideration of any absolute value may in itself be an exercise in abstraction. But I think not. Before the end, there is a midway to the end, and before that point there is another midway, and so on. This is a constant, never ceasing pre-absolute. Approaching the ‘pre-absolute’ is welded to the poignancy of the human condition – I move towards the absolute but never get there. In this sense, we may be more fearful of darkness that is barely taking form, than we are of absolute darkness.
So, that is why so much of my work is shaped by the platinum-palladium print and large format negatives. These materials give a highly nuanced voice to the pre-absolute. Almost black, almost white. And this image is one of the most terrifying I have ever made. It is in between a lot of end points. How is that possible? Ask any refugee. Or immigrant.
Platinum and palladium are noble metals. Robust in its immutability. Paper is made of cellulose fibers. Fragile in its transparency.