Scattered thoughts after a subjective gaze into Charlotte Moth’s use of images
She: Charlotte Moth
He: extracts from William T. Vollman’s The Rifles
I: Francesco Pedraglio
The first thing she did was to select some images and send them to me.
He wrote: “Maybe life is a process of trading hopes for memories”.
He actually started a new paragraph with this line, breaking the silence with it, projecting me directly into the middle of an unexpected chain of thoughts.
I, a reader like you, couldn’t do anything else but accept it and draw my personal consequences.
Meanwhile she showed me these images, avoiding adding any specific comment on them. Again I’m in the middle of something I don’t quite grasp, something not mine and yet so faintly familiar: have I already been there? Do I know this corner? Did I stare at that sign before, did I dance or eat or talk in this room, in this corridor, under this sky?
It was all quite abrupt. I had simply to acknowledge their presence, the presence of these images and these spaces in my head and in my memory, in my eyes and now in my life.
He said that it may all be a process of trading hopes for memories, and I bet he wrote it in a single breath. She took some pictures and sent them to me, and I suspect he didn’t verbalise the exact reason for her selection.
I felt the existence of a relation between the two events, him and her, written words and photographs, but couldn’t work out why.
He was talking about life in its broader terms, life in general, the expectations that life brings in and the representations we commonly create out of it.
The life he is talking about is the life of someone who creates memories by withdrawing images, the images of his own being in a specific environment, absorbing its functionality and living its consequences.
She starts where he ends: images. She moves backwards in the opposite direction. They are complementary. She takes images to create impressions, memories of spaces and places, of the indiscriminate that, under her lens, could become geometry, light, rhythm, stillness or movement. Hence she too arrives to talk about life, life in its broader sense. She arrives from the opposite end though.
Here they meet again, him and her, matching top-to-bottom through the complex significance of what an image is or could be. They cross each other on the field of the perfect image, the one that establishes the correct relationship between remote things grasped in their maximum distance.
They both search for perfect images, even if through different paths and opposite starting points: from life’s expectation to its representation for him, and from life’s representation to its conceptualisation for her.
I finally gain an elusive instant of contact between them: photographs turning into images and hopes being traded for memories. Temporality is forever lost, becoming timeless anonymity, profitable mystery, organised clash and constructed continuum.
She is not a photographer and that’s why her images are neither abstraction, nor pure technique: they are mystery, hers as well as ours.
He is not constructing theories and that’s why his reading of ‘life as shift to memory’ is never objectively traceable, leaving any categorisation at the mercy of ambiguity.
A balance has now been formed. The relation between her images and his phrase – or between the photographs she sent me, and my interpretation of them – is based on my position as spectator/reader. Through their work I enter into the wider field of collective memory, universally accessible and yet always constructed into subjectivity, my subjectivity as viewer.
Her images are displaced residues of the sites they have come to depict. Like any other image she took, the one she sent me can’t be defined just through her eyes; they inevitably incorporate other personal readings that I, the subject who received them, might place upon them. This is her phenomenology of the image. A photograph, light through the lens and onto the film, a simple frame, but also a perfect image, a constellation of signs and potential dialogue between past and future, between the morbidly common and the uniquely mine.
He stops where she began. She arrives where he started. They link for an instant, for a fleeting gaze in their use of the image as both pure documentation and possible narrative.
While he spoke of life as a process of trading hopes for memories, she thought of how something could look like a picture before you take a picture of it. And what happens once you do it, once you do take that picture and store it, conserve it between other pictures and utilise it in different environments? Isn’t that what he meant when he spoke of hope being traded for memories? Any photograph of an architectural space becomes an atmosphere, a phenomenological hope for a different understanding. Not simply a picture of that space, but of me as viewer-reader, of every subject looking at it. Other eyes transforming images into personal expectations. From memory to hope.
If I could ask him now about his phrase, he would probably not recall where he was at the time he wrote it, what he was doing or wearing, the colour of the walls or the fabric of the half-closed curtains masking the sunlight. Instead she knows the colour of the walls, the shadows produced by the sun crashing against the asphalt, by the light changing through the reflective glass of the buildings.
Her description: meticulous representations of objects and spaces, so meticulously researched that they blur like his words, they become abstract, like paintings.
They are together again. From their two different worlds, they both agree not to show every side of things, allowing themselves a margin of indefiniteness.
And I’m this indefiniteness. I, left in front of that phrase and these images. I, the viewer-reader, as any viewer-reader. We are the reason these interpretations exist. We are the reason their work is so far and yet so close.