Photographer Anna Paola Guerra’s work plays heavily on the way in which the unassuming cadence of light in the most unremarkable of spaces can create momentary tableaus of oblique intensity, and beguiling complexity. She photographs at the instant in which rudimentary natural and man-made objects, draped in passing shade or illuminated by an electric wedge of reflected sunlight, suddenly intimate a parallel dimension of intricate drama, an underworld of unintelligible intrigue. Her photography could crudely be said to illustrate the secret life of the most ordinary of objects, and the steady magnetic appeal of her work stems from the way she uses the interplay of light and shade to uncover something seductive in the overlap between that which has been made visible by light, and the inscrutable secrets held in its shadows.
While many of her pictures are in at least obvious ways defined by the stark bright intrusion of light, it is the way the boundaries of what has been illuminated invite the imagination on into the shade that gives her images a nagging, elusive quality. She seems to be photographing what has in fact been concealed. Her photographs are alive to the stubborn and articulate presence of objects, to their own miniature constellations of cause and effect. The way she photographs objects, shadows and reflections gives them a sense of intent, makes of the moment recorded a kind of afterword to a series of events we may not see. This has the effect of giving her pictures tension, since what is described is also in some essential way invisible.
Anna’s pictures may often depend upon the chance coincidence of a number of apparently separate factors, but it is her faith in the inherent literal quality of vision that enables her to seize on momentary intersections and craft from them enchanting little mysteries. In this sense, Anna makes photographs of perception – photographs that illustrate the way that an unmediated glimpse of a thing can be charged with an alternate but equally persuasive meaning. The poet Don Paterson, in an essay that spoke in part about the history of ritual and of magic in the uses of poetry, observes about perception and language that:
“when we were born, everything was pretty much everything else. The breast was you, your mother the breast, and the back garden your mother, the world was an absolute and indivisible unity. There was nothing to tell you otherwise. This perception is atemporal, since the perception of the passing of time is dependent first on the perception of difference, of an asymmetrical and consecutive series of events, which we did not then know.
This sense of unity was gradually overlayed with the perception of discrete, causally successive and asymmetrical things and events. With the acquisition of language, this goes into overdrive. Now here’s the important part; this new perception does not refute the observations of the first, but is necessary accommodation of the fact of our consciousness. That is to say in the fall into language, asymmetry, the observation that we are other than the breast, the mother and the back garden, the moon, the sea, does not occur at the expense of that first knowledge, of everything as everything else, of a unity; this continues running, mostly under the limen of our consciousness, as a kind of spiritual DOS programme. Why? Because it was true.”
In Anna’s photographs the frond does reach out toward the windowpane, the curtain is forlorn, each of these things are alive. The sort of subcutaneous reality of things that go bump in the night obtrudes through her photographs into the precincts of our everyday reality.
The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote that “[w]e must take literally what vision teaches us, namely that through it we come into contact with the Sun and the stars, that we are everywhere all at once, and that even our power to imagine ourselves elsewhere borrows from vision and employs means we owe to it. Vision alone makes us learn that beings that are different, ‘exterior’, foreign to one another, are yet absolutely together, are ‘simultaneity’”. Anna’s photography operates on the basis that this argument is valid, and her work makes a strong case for the belief that what is apparent is after a while not nearly so straightforward, but is all the richer for it.