C-type print of press transferred positive on Hahnemule paper
210 cm x 108 cm
What lies beneath (2016)
C-type print on Hahnemule paper
210 cm x 108 cm
Part of the auratic translations of images from the 1930s on the river in Argentina, these photographic renditions (large scale) emphasize the troughs and fissures that occur when different surfaces and iterations occur. The research is centred on a photo album found of my grandfather’s images of the turn of the century in Latin America and create a dialogue across time.
Hats on the Paraná, circa 1930, Henry Richard Ahrens
PROLOGUE: Hats on the Paraná
There is a photograph that I discovered some years ago, a photograph in ruins, that can be read only in the ‘traces of what is no longer present.’ I will call this photograph ‘Hats on the Paraná’, as it has triggered an investigation into the network of dialogues that address narratives of place in contemporary printmaking and photographic practice. This photograph, taken circa 1930, along the River Paraná in Argentina (according to a caption on the back) is a snapshot found in a forgotten family album and belonged to my grandfather, Henry Richard Ahrens. I never knew my grandfather, as he died when I was only two years old. All that remains of him in my mind’s eye is a vague recollection of a tall man in a hat, at the margins of my vision, as well as a handful of stories of him handed down by my family. Certainly, I had no idea that he was a keen photographer and, as so many of his time, collected his photographs in the pages of a now worn and weathered photographic album. The image itself (figure 2) is an analogue, silver based print and captures a faded shot of the river, trees running up both sides in a triangular composition, sky mirroring the water and a bird flying out of the image. On closer inspection, in the bottom right hand corner of the photograph, cut off by the edge of the print are two gentlemen in what appears to be a rowing boat (the end of an oar cuts the photographic plane): they are both wearing a hat, each one is different and distinct – one belonging to the man whose face we see, is a captain’s white naval hat with a visor, the other, firmly positioned on the head of a man whose face is turned and obscured, is a fedora. Both men in their hats inhabit the print at its margins, as incomplete figures, torso-less, limbless, and now, lifeless and still. They represent the only human presence visible in the image; two strangers whose existence remains partially engrained on the surface of a print, yet unknown to me. The surface of the print is beginning to deteriorate, creating superficial distortions on the left side, and across the bottom of the image. These are chemical erasures that are reacting to time and atmospheric conditions, eating at the print and peeling away at its coating. Where the river fades into a vanishing point in the centre of the photograph and the trees that frame it on both sides collide with the sky, the faintest shadow of a white sun hangs low on the horizon. The man wearing the captain’s hat is positioned, it would seem, in the centre of the boat, mouth poised open mid speech, while the second man sits behind him, looking away from the photographer, only his right ear and the dark socket of his right eye below his hat are visible. A tear in the right hand corner of the print creates a line culminating in a void, which runs through the captain’s eyes, scratching them from visibility, and impeding our view and, in a sense, the captain’s ability to see ‘us’. He is blinded by the sun, as he squints at the photographic lens, and twice blinded by the fragile scratches. The print is in ruin, compromised by time and alchemy, and its meaning is being lost with it. The photograph is fading, yellowing and tearing, as its transient history marks its passage through time: it is of the past, but seen in the present and disappearing into its future.
 Eduardo Cadava, 2001, p.35