Exhibition essay for Lindsay Seers & Francois Lefranc
Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth
the haunted world of Lindsay Seers & Francois Lefranc
These are photographs; but not as we know them. The show is about normal domestic images but not quite of them. Our easy-going relationship to the photographic image is somehow arrested, as though the images themselves were somehow restless. The title of the show, ‘Witness’, might suggest some form of documentary but these are dysfunctional images, which disturb and haunt the cosy truth of domestic photographs. These are witness to the repressed.
‘Witness in the Woods’ plays with domestic, not professional, photography. It interferes in the psychological relationships we have with everyday photographs. The conjuring of these images and the disruption of the photographic process that this entails are thus not technical matters but psychological ones. The familiarity of our domestic images are made troublesome. Our smooth, reliable pictures are turned into ungraspable ghosts. Here photographs repeatedly have their images rent from the object of the photograph: the strangeness of this state of affairs gives these images an unsettled and unsettling life. The repressed content of ordinary images is awakened.
The figure of the ghost is so salient because ghosts are caught between worlds. They are image without body: signification without substance. Moreover, their substance lies elsewhere. They exist in the present but refer to the past, where their significance lies. Ghosts are unsettled because they are a reminder of unfinished business. Of course the human psyche is always already haunted by the past: the product of unfinished business.
The description of a ghost could fit the description of a domestic photograph: an image which refers to the past. Both are a suspension of time. The normal difference, however, is that the ghost prosecutes its displacement in time, making the past weigh upon the present, whereas the photograph keeps the past at a distance, a fixed image. Everyday photographs usually act as a way of shoring up the past and keeping ghosts in their place. It is almost as if the very familiarity and solidity of seeing these images protect the subject against feeling their content.
Proof deals with the particularly poignant domestic photograph, the family snapshot. In Proof there is a play and tension between surfaces. These are pictures from any family album: a mother and child, or children. The mother is a photographic image fixed onto board with liquid light. The children are painted in black and white, reproducing the photographic details of the photograph from which they are painted. The images fit together perfectly to form one picture. But the difference in surfaces rips the picture apart and separates the mother and children. One cannot see the mother and children existing in the same world. Although both surfaces are photographic in their different ways, neither of them has priority as the ‘original’ or unspoilt image. The comfort of the old, original photograph, as an object as much as an image, has been lost.
The genre of the family snapshot (or other group photograph for that matter) is meant to show persons together. The moment is often constructed and posed or taken at a special time, such as on holiday. The family portrait is not the site of oedipal dramas and other intrigues and conflicts. The family snapshot shows the family’s togetherness, when the reality of the family situation might be, and usually is, vastly different. The family sna