THE PALE MIRROR
25 Jul – 31 Aug 2012
MARK KIMBER | The Pale Mirror, Artist Statement 2012
In 1839, when the writer, Oliver Wendell Holmes, saw a daguerreotype, the fi rst commercial photographic process, he called it a mirror with a memory and, in a way, it was. Held inside a leather case, the surface of a daguerreotype is silver-plated copper, highly polished to a mirror-like fi nish. In essence, when the refl ection of a sitter fell on the plate, it stayed there forever, if it was treated appropriately.
In the smallest of increments, and through a soft, milky haze, the world around her took shape. At fi rst just indistinct patches of nebulous light and dark clouds swirling towards and away, followed by more solid forms, and then fi nally she was there. Her dreams hovered elusively on the far rim of her consciousness, fading, fl eeing, and then returning before the morning sun in a dance across the stars. The daguerreotype lay open in her hands, its brown faux leather case witness to its history; marked, cut and scuffed by the lives of lost owners across 160 years of touch. The daguerreotype case was slightly smaller than a paperback, the thickness of a notebook, with a red velvet pad on the left-hand side, and a mirror-like surface of the image on its right. A jewel case for another kind of gem. Only with this daguerreotype, the image, whatever it once was, had long since been banished from its surface.
Daguerrian images, provided they are sealed behind glass and protected from the air, are eternal, but break the seal and expose its inherent fragility to the legions of contaminates that swarm through the atmosphere, and the mirror begins to oxidise rapidly. It’s as if time held at bay for all those years, floods in and devours what once defied it. The actual picture itself is a fi ne dust of light and dark particles sprinkled lightly across the surface, and it rests so delicately on the mirror that the gentlest of touches rubs it away forever.
Each night she held its mirrored surface close - a pale, faded mirror, peeling and blistered at its edges, awash with an almost impenetrable fog. The mirror, her mirror, no more than a winter’s breath in front of her face, followed her every move; every turn of her head, every moon lit caprice. As she looked, she could see forms tantalisingly shrouded in the blue mist of evening. Jagged shapes loomed out of the shadows; towering, silent mountains of ice burned brightly; vast, empty landscapes silhouetted against a monstrous sun floated in the sky; and ships lost off nameless headlands buffeted by dark shifting seas, drifted across the mirror’s face before dissolving back into the indistinct, into the fog of forgetfulness, and beyond her grasp. In this state, between wakefulness and sleep, she was free of the rigid logic of the day and the restraints of reason, able to wander the world and beyond in the enchanted embrace of a hypnagogian* state. Between these two states she lived in a world mediated by the abstraction of reflection; the mirror a conduit for representation, filtering and augmenting all images into something elusive and fleeting. There were terrors here too, terrors that called to her in the sweetest of ice-cold tongues, but they could be endured because beyond them lay wonder and total immersion in experience such as she had not known since childhood. This was not simply the suspension of disbelief: this was absolute, unquestioning engagement in sensation and experiential absorption, boundaries not included, both controllable and limitless.
Paris, 1839, and at last the long-dreamt-of concept of photography is realised. The image taken from life can triumph over the certainty of death. Time and the inexorable march of all towards decay can now be frozen; loved ones forever amongst us long after they have passed; the world and its mountains, seas and forests still standing long after their riches have been consumed.
This mirror at last has a memory - the perfect storehouse of all that was here but is now lost. The brevity may be gone, but the memory lingers on.
- Mark Kimber
*Hypnagogia (from Greek - hypn “sleep” + agogos “leading, inducing”) is the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep (i.e. the onset of sleep)