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Album pacifica published by Autograph, London
Reviewed by: Stephen Bury »
You find a tin of old family photographs: small black and white images, many unrecognisable without the assistance of elderly relatives; place and date unless scribbled on the back are guess work (dependent on fashion or car numberplates). Mohini Chandra's photographic project for Autograph, curated by Richard Hylton, defamiliarises the photographic medium by presenting us with the backs of photographs with their accumulated accidental marks of wear and tear, photographic studio stamps 'Globe Studios Nadi' or 'Prassad's Studios, 21 Cumming Street, Suva, Fiji' or annotations such as 'England 1968 just prior to emigrat[ing] to Australia' or 'you could perhaps guess who are these two great sailors'.
The abstract, almost anonymous, shapes of yellowing white contrast with the humanity of the captions. We long to fill in and reconstruct the narrative of the travels of Chandra's family back and forth from Fiji, New Zealand, England, Australia and the USA from the 30s to the 90s, and to work out the family tree. The text is sufficiently ambiguous and fractured to frustrate the attempt is '3rd runner up 196[4?] Miss Hibiscus Contest' ironic? And we want to see the faces on the other side even more.
These are emphatically themselves photographs. They also question what a photograph is. Roland Barthes traced back the power of the photograph the punctum to the original moment that the image is captured chemically on the film: evidence of a real person at a real moment, perhaps now dead. In Chandra's book, the punctum comes not from the image but from its absence: we can populate the void with narratives of our own, but we cannot escape the overwhelming feeling of loss, of history sliding into anonymity and invisibility.
Album pacifica is published by Autograph, London
(www.autograph-abp.co.uk) and distributed by Cornerhouse Publications, Manchester in an edition of 350. ISBN 1 899282 65 3.
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