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Monday, 11 April 2011


So a few months ago I interviewed Timothy Archibald about his project, Echolilia, a collaboration with his son Elijah that Timothy finally completed and released in book form. I didn't have the book, but I knew and admired the project so much, not just for the images, but for the thought, care and love that had been taken to create a work that functions at multiple levels, says something knew and walks close to the edge at times. It cannot have been an easy work to make.

Then I got the book and that takes the project to a different level. Echolilia is the most intriguing and revealing photography books on children. It goes beyond the lyrical and the physical to examine how his son Elijah, and children as a whole, think, see and behave. It is also a case of work having a life far beyond its early computer-based medium.

Last week I mentioned in a post how great work goes beyond it's technical or historical roots and extends into wider spheres. This is what Archibald does with Echolilia - he reaches into the genus loci of his family, his son, of what it is to be an individual with his own way of thinking and being and the effect this has on his way of seeing and being seen.

On the way, he incorporates notes, stickers, pictures, scans and found objects to add a dimension to the pictures he creates. "I DOTE LIKE you" reads  one note, paired with another that says "I hATE you". Another scrap of paper is divided into 4, with each corner reading GUN, hUG, MOM, WOW - a virtual mirror image. There are pictures of Elijah lying naked in a plastic tub, a picture of birth, the sunlight streaming into the room through the curtains beyond. Another shows him sitting, belly sticking out, with a paper bag on his head, a mix of visual referents that is both disturbing but also right on the money.

The book starts with a picture of Elijah in profile, a wire basket over his head. "Late afternoon is when the noises start," reads the accompanying text. "The electronic noises have been around since he was three," the text continues. Flip the page and there is a handwritten note of condensed parental worries about Elijah and his behaviour - diagnoses of  possibleAspergers or other spectrum disorders, the symptons, the cures, the reactions, how to handle the school, what to tell the school. The opposing page is a scan of a bloodied band-aid, the stop-gap solution to a problem that nobody is sure exists, the start of a process of understanding that is the narrative drive of the book.

In one picture, Elijah sits on a table sniffing flowers. In another, he stands, bare-chested with a pair of pliers hanging from his mouth. The next image shows him leaning against a screen door, his mind miles away, the picture clipped round the sides and then scanned. Numerous pictures show constrictions, others show extensions and focussing points; a funnel over his face concentrating whatever lies beneath, a cardboard tube elongating his arm into some kind of alien appendage. The last picture is of Elijah lying on the floor, eyes closed, speaking into a vacuum tube, the other end against his ear, the circle of understanding and self-awareness fixed, but not perhaps complete.

Echolilia resonates with people outside photography. They see their child in Elijah, they see new ways of communicating and understanding from the pictures. Echolilia will never pay the bills because it is quite unglamorous; it is collaborative, it is about a child who falls within the autistic spectrum, it does not conform to a particular way of seeing, it's not commercial.

Sometimes with art and photography, one gets a big feeling that the artist/photographer doesn't know what he is talking about or showing, that he or she is hiding something and that something is what they don't know. Sometimes you get the same feeling with Timothy Archibald, but it is deliberate, something that he will address in his pictures, a gap that he will try to close, a weakness that becomes a strength within the framework of Echolilia - a lack of knowing that is as central to Archibald's state of being as it is to all of ours - if only we would admit it. I think that is what makes Echolilia so unique. It is an expression of uncertainty and doubt, but through that expression has come a new way of understanding, an understanding that extends beyond the world of Elijah and his family.

Look inside Echololia and Buy the Book here.

It is holidays now, so this blog will be taking a short break for a few weeks. Back in May.

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