After Life

Susan Fereday, After Y/Arbus 2008/11

Susan Fereday‘s new exhibition, After Life, at Sarah Scout Presents, continues her investigation into the essential nature of photography. Playing with the resonances in a series of found snapshots she creates a meditation on photography’s embodiment in light and vision.

The main photograph is of a girl posing for the camera with her eyes closed to the sun – or is she blind? The facing shots are of people gazing directly at the camera but partly obscured, blinded, by fingers and light fog,  the usual accidents of family snapshots. Their eye contact with you remind you of how many photographs are a kind of mirror: a person looks at a photo and a person inside looks back. It’s a strange encounter between flesh and phantasm.

Light and its action on light-sensitive materials is what makes photography possible. But it has been Fereday’s contention that the medium obscures as much as it reveals and in this exhibition the light is shown in the act of veiling its subjects. Light is anarchic in these pictures, cutting off heads and limbs, an occult energy from the subjects themselves.

The exhibition is about the afterlife of photographs that take on new meanings as they break loose from their original context. After our life we live on in photographs. Yet the person in an unidentified photograph is an orphan. The likeness remains, but there is no identity attached to it. The sign is intact, but what does it refer to? Being made after life, from reality, is the very condition of photography. But it’s incomplete, suggestive, partial, it’s not life itself.

The wordplay extends to the title of the main image, After Y/arbus. The photograph does indeed look like a Diane Arbus, but Yarbus? Well, Alfred L. Yarbus was the psychologist who pioneered the study of saccadic eye movements. When your eyes dart around this photograph looking for clues, that’s what they’re doing. These sort of intricate references are what Fereday excels at – see my post on her PhD exhibition, Grail and Wail.

I recommend the short essay by Tegan Lewis which discusses the exhibition in terms of photography’s alchemical and organic properties. It can be found on the Sarah Scout Presents website.

Susan Fereday, Ghost Story (scary woman) 2011

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