‘After Life’ at Sarah Scout
3 to 26 February 2011
‘Ghost Story’ (2011) by Susan Fereday is a series of seven photographs of family life from the mid-twentieth century that have been partly rubbed out by light. Light waves objectively transpose the corporeal world’s likeness to the camera: to the eye. Yet, the camera and its lens can cause flares, light paint and leakage which abstract reality’s consistent representation and capture light itself. Fereday has re-enlarged vintage analogue negatives to emphasize this light. In Fereday’s work light partially effaces the photographic image. The actual light captured in the dark chamber of the camera is long gone. It is only rendered by the photograph. The light that illuminated the subject is seen in a new light. The effect of strong light in the photographic image is un-printed paper.
In ‘Ghost Story (couple)’ a couple in a bar pose happily for the camera. The flash of the camera reflects off a stainless steel counter outside the frame and its glare intrudes into the image. The couple with their inward body language would conventionally be in the centre of the photo but they aren’t. They seem to make room for the flash glare. Compositionally the two elements of the image, the couple and the glare, are balanced at the expense of the consistency to the image. Paradoxically subject matter and illumination, two separate registers of photography, seem to be aware of each other. A debutant is snapped before a ball in ‘Ghost Story (party girl)’. The situation is casual enough to allow a quite open smiling expression from someone crouched in a doorway. Like the couple in the bar the light intruding into the frame is compositionally coherent. Its arch forms a visual support for the round form of the billowed dress and leads the eye upwards.
As viewers we are made realise the nature of family snapshots. These are images that are made for the specific context of viewing within the family—a personal familiarity with the people in the images is implied by viewing the photographs. Nevertheless, these images also, ultimately, become something to someone else. They fall into the hands of a stranger. After death you lose control of your image and your images. The ghosts in this series aren’t the ectoplasmic spectres of light known in ghost photography but the ghosts of the people alienated from their image.
Photographic theory deals with the opposing notions of an indexed representation of an unmediated raw subject and the textual mediated nature of the photograph. These two positions are conflated in Fereday’s work. Light refracted through the geometry of the curved lens in the form of undesirable aberration reveals that the invisible lens is the agent which makes sense out of subject of the photograph. However, the glass prism of the lens itself is also imprinted on the film—made visible thanks to light. Fereday accentuates this trace of the lens in the darkroom. Fereday enhances the aberrations in the film. She burns and dodges these images in the darkroom. Her work honours the photographer’s technique—what is conspicuous in her work was never meant to be noticed.
Light cuts through the screen of the photograph, to reveal the language of the camera. Light is like the primal speech of photography. All the images of photography exist lit. Light reflected and refracted in the lens is rendered directly—more primarily than its effect. It stares back at the viewer because it is so integral to vision; yet, it has a disembodied gaze like a ghost. It represents our desires in that it satisfies our ego obsession to be dialectally recognised in the eye of another in order to master the reflexivity of consciousness. That is, the unconscious fantasy of being watched.