Recently, a friend gifted me with a box of old negatives he found while cleaning out his late father’s half-century-old photography studio in the town of Thrissur, Kerala (a state in southern India). His father was a prominent portrait photographer who worked with 2 ¼ film in the 1960’s. I curiously opened the box only to find the negatives damaged beyond recognition by time and humidity. In their deteriorated state they had not only a story to tell but an aesthetic conceptual appeal unto themselves.
I photographed the backlit negatives with a close-up lens to reveal the intricacies of the image contained in the negatives as well as the physical characteristics of the putrefied substrate on which the image resided. The resultant photograph is a combination of the original photograph of the sitter in the picture, and the marks of Time appearing as structural changes in the emulsion and organic changes in the form of fungal growth and putrefaction. The final product is hence a constructed image of a long-lost staged portrait. “This is a series that engages the question of what a photograph is, what a subject is, how history defines/interrupts/belies subject matter, and the layers of meaning inherent in the material, surface texture, in faces, in choices” as Michael Weil Ph.D., photo-historian, puts it.
The individual faces in the picture may be lost to oblivion, but, in spite of the years of decay, the vague image of their ethos remains. Words vanish; forms fade; but the traces of our deeds remain.
PRESENTATION: Archival Pigment Prints on cotton rag, 23.5 x 16.5 inches, printed by the artist, hand-signed with date, signature embossed, and stamped.
Exhibitions: Foothill Galleries of the Photo Succession, Cleveland, Ohio, USA (Print exhibition as part of the Cleveland Photo Festival, 2019);
PhotoMuse – The Museum of Photography, Kerala, India (Projected exhibition in 2019)
© Unni Krishnan Pulikkal S.