The intimation we share that pictures somehow carry with them a visceral and yet invisible charge stems, I think, from the gap that opens up between the whole as we experience it, and the sum a picture’s individual parts. Any inventory of an image will always be an unreliable record of that experience. Photographs that beguile us do not merely depict a moment or an object that somehow exceeds its literal description, but also disclose our susceptibility to the primal effect that colour, contrast and form can have on our inner world. A blood red ceiling recalls a number of things, but one among them is the intense fragility of our physical form and the ease with which when broken it bleeds, leaving us frightened and vulnerable. A small sliver of pure white light is always redolent of hope when it holds back the darkness.
Those things we cannot ascribe to something so mundane as content or subject matter, but that find a way to lean into the frame, to well up in a momentary pause or the cadence of a shaft of light, were also the elementary brickwork with which we learned as children how to navigate our way through the world. We learned that a tactile experience can trigger a dream or a nightmare so vivid that it puts our waking world in shade; we began to learn how not to fear the darkness, and in moments of rhapsody how to treasure the light; we learned that the realm of consciousness could not fully govern or exhaustively explain the sensation of a body in space. In a sense the passage from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood was marked by our increasingly dextrous understanding of the interplay between what we can lay a hand to, and that which cannot be seen.
That interplay between the ethereal and the concrete, the sensation and the apprehension, the reciprocal relationship between a word spoken and a thing felt, is reflected back to us in pictures. In Max Pigott’s photographs – those belonging to his ongoing project “Interlude” – these two polarities are elided, they are made to overlap and share the same space within the picture’s frame, they are made the subject of an act of dreaming that his camera carries out on the world. In these photographs he seems to me to be refusing to take the appearance of things as in any way a given, a commonplace or self-evident truth. What is invisible is nevertheless in some concrete way made to appear present within the photograph, so that water becomes ancestral in the way that it shrouds a sheepshead skull, and moulded glass takes on the aspect of rainfall under winter light.
These pictures leave me with an overwhelming sense of an elsewhere that has somehow been drawn into the frame, of something powerful – hypnotic, maybe – that remains both undisclosed and significant in its absence. They have the feeling of a half-remembered dream. They reminded me of a poem by James Merrill that begins, in a strange way, at its ending, and unfolds as a way of working back towards the poet, in the present, rediscovering his childhood and his current self simultaneously. In “A Vision of the Garden” Merrill finds himself present in the recollection of the youthful sketches of a face he made on frosted glass, sketches that became a garden that now become the lines of the face of his lover. For him time is elided in the effects of something figurative, and two instants separated by decades are brought into momentary and electric connection:
“I was a child, I did not know
That what I longed for would resist
Neither what cold lines should my finger trace
On colder grounds before I found anew
In yours the features of that face
Whose words whose looks alone undo
Such frosts I lay me down in love in fear
At how they melt become a blossoming pear
Joy outstretched in our bodies’ place.”
Max’s photographs share something of the same faith that underlies Merrill’s poem: faith in the profound proximity of the intangible to what is most concrete, faith in the potential equivalence and simultaneity of all things, faith – finally – in the instructive powers of our own imagination.