Catalogue essay from a joint exhibition at The Photographers Gallery, Melbourne, Australia, 2002.
Link to my images from the exhibition
“Darkness is not essentially evil, since it is the ground of the light which emerges from it, and in this sense is unmanifest light; the pre-cosmogonic, pre-natal darkness precedes both birth and initiation, and darkness is associated with states of transition. Colour symbolizes the differentiated, the manifest; light and dark colours used in contrast symbolize the materialization of light.”
J.C. Cooper 1
Darkness is a link to so many otherwise unrelated qualities – the moist, the mysterious, the chthonic, even death. from this last quality, I would like to pose a question in the spirit of the poetic dichotomy of darkness / colour: ‘what is the colour of immortality?’ If we accept that the ‘infinite’ is a state without time, could we accept immortality, the physically infinite, as a state without colour?
Here the key is to be found in qualities from the words ‘physical’ and ‘infinite’; one denotes a physical presence, that lives, breathes and dies, and the other a state without time. The i-mortal of immortality, the knowledge that I can die, can only be ‘known’ through experience of living. We know that we are going to die, but we cannot have actual knowledge of it, we can only have real ‘knowledge’ of something if there is something to be grasped and something to grasp it. This only exists in the ‘phenomenal’ world – the world of causal relationships, the world of material substances, the world of phenomena, and we know nothing of the world of the ‘noumenal’, the non-material, the unconceptualizable, which is outside all possibility of time and space.2 Because we have no knowledge of our death, or what it is like to be immortal, the immortal state may rest in the noumenal. So if immortality does rest in the noumenal, of which we have no conception, how do we know it has colour?
Conversely to be immortal you would still have a physical body that has knowledge of darkness and colour, so perhaps immortality would have many colours! Our interpretation of the states of transition between darkness, (the unmanifest), and colour, (the manifest), may offer us a clue to the immortal. The states of transition become meaningful, are given value, by our interpretations, and therein lies the essence of these photographs – the pictures are not photographs of darkness / colour any more than they are photographs of shapes, textures, objects, symbols, or events but rather photographs of experience, our experience as we have knowledge of it.3 In the viewing of these photographs we may transcend time and space, bringing past time back into present time, disturbing the temporal and spatial dimensions between viewer and art work. The reality of our experiencing this disturbance may be as close as we can get to the noumenal, the immortal, the spiritual if you like, and therefore these photographs become ‘valuable’ in this sense, in our sense, the experiencing of i-mortal.
Marcus Bunyan 1998
1/ Cooper, J.C. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols. London: Thames and Hudson, 1995, pp. 39-40.
2/ Magee, Bryan. Confessions of a Philosopher. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997, p. 405.
3/ Szarkowski, John (ed.,). William Egglestone’s Guide. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1976, p. 10.