This week we feature four photographic projects that attend to the topic of books and permanence. These artists diversely explore how the paper book is lent to considering the disappearance of lifeways, the degradation of material, the discarding of once-evocative objects, and their replacement with imperfect machines.
The photographs comprising Peter Bennett’s 2012 series, The Voyage, are delicate and delectable records. The fine damage of water across antique pages and the images of water printed on them come together into a beautiful rumination on books as impermanent holders of our world.
Bennett is interested in the ways that photography has opened new aesthetic options for understanding memory. In this series, he photographs a page or a spread from decaying books as a visual excerpting strategy. But the excerpt, like the trace, is always partial. It emphasizes its missing counterparts, its invisible origin. It is often the only piece present or remaining. As a photographic project, Bennett’s concept and visual decisions are exceptionally well matched. He not only creates lovely images in a constrained tonal field, but capitalizes on this wavering, fading aesthetic to encourage viewers to consider the enigma of memory.
In his own words,
“Photography is widely celebrated for its ability to provide a trace, which in some way links us to the past. These images, in contrast, examine our lack of proximity with the past by highlighting the processes of fading, disintegration and forgetting inherent in the materiality of books as repositories of memory.
Increasingly, books and a wide range of other objects, are ‘made accessible’ through processes of reproduction, the photograph displacing the qualities and aura of the original – this new proximity bringing with it an absence of the object itself.
In The Voyage, the technical clarity of the record allows for a close inspection of the textural qualities of the books, revealing the anatomy of their construction. The images explore the impermanent long-term nature of these repositories of memory and the material fragility of their continuing existence.
The sea forms a faint narrative throughout the images; ships are just discernible through the pages and fragments of text refer to tales of the sea. Imagined places are made all the more remote through the action of time and the processes by which they are reproduced. Many of the pages are transformed by the effects of dampness and contaminants, creating a patina of time on the surface of the paper. The books look like they have been dredged up from some watery depths, like remnants recording the lost traces of past voyages. But this is not the record of any specific journey; this work represents a collection of fragmented narratives exploring the book, and the processes of its reproduction, as an attempt to overcome the vagaries and mortality of human memory.”
About the artist
Peter Bennett is interested in how photographic technology has created new ways of remembering the world, both by providing a material trace in the form of the photograph, and by providing an analogous model for us to visualize the processes of perception and memory. His recent work examines photography’s essential characteristics as a technology concerned with the processes of displacement and substitution of experience and memory.
He has many years of industry experience, both as a photographer, and in managing large photographic, design and marketing projects. He is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Brighton, researching into Proximity and Absence: Photography and the Aesthetics of Memory. He has an MA in Photography – Distinction (University of Brighton, 2010) and a BA(Hons) in Photographic Studies (University of Derby, 1987). He lives in London and currently divides his time between pursuing his own photographic practice/research and lecturing.
Learn more about Peter’s photographic projects here.