I was very intrigued by Sara Davidmann’s work, Ken. To be destroyed. As an aside, this is in part because it starts with a family situation that is familiar to an idea for a book I one day hope to write.
Regardless of that, her work, and how she creates it, including it being exhibited while still an active and evolving piece of work, provides much insight and reflection for my own ways of working.
The images she creates for this speak to Ken and Hazel’s life in the 1950s and onwards, with Ken being transgender and the life they chose together once he had admitted this to Hazel after their marriage.
She speaks about how the surfaces of photos Ken had taken of Hazel had drawn her attention,”…the print has a remarkable surface of mould and scratches and rips, and you can even see a thumb print on the lower right-hand side of this image. This led me to work on the surfaces of the photographs that I produce. I began by using some of the photographs, initially to produce photograms in the dark room, shooting light through them. I then scanned these, and I went back to scanning the original photographs, at a very high resolution. These scans, when seen digitally on a screen, a computer screen, allowed me to look much more closely at the surfaces, […] by eye, and the resulting images seem to take on a different life; a new life” (Davidmann. 2018) and I am also taken with her use of hand colouring in prints where she had digitally put Ken in Hazel’s place.
I used to hand colour prints many years ago; the technique has always fascinated me by its ability to substantially change the essence of the original work. As Davidmann commented in her talk, images can become “other worldly” or ‘hyper real”.
She also spoke about using chemigram processes and on her website mentions using chemicals as if paint to disrupt the final outcome.
She felt she gained a freedom in these methods to interpret the images and letters not found until her mother had to go into a nursing home and her and her siblings came across photographs, papers and letters between her mother and her aunt, Hazel, while sorting out her mother’s house.
But, using a variety of darkroom techniques to produce this body of work in recognition of this family history is not the only freedom Davidmann spoke about.
The importance of this work for her, it seems to me, is her ability to set Ken free to be who he (really she) should have been during his lifetime.
This is a power of photography, to not only hide and disguise and manipulate, but to lay life bare and give truth.
These techniques are ones that I am drawn too and use myself, although I have most recently been stripping back the use of photo-chemicals in my work to the minimum possible for an ‘alternative’ process.
But I do think something such as Davidmann’s use of processes will be part of my next project, which is in embryonic stage at present.
Sensitivity and the ability to be bold shine through this work. Describing herself as a queer artist and photographer, and having produced much more work on gender identity and family of others up to 2013, she has since put the spotlight on her own family history. This is another angle of intrigue for me, particularly a my mother’s paternal family moved from Italy to the UK at the turn of the 20th Century, and I know there are some fascinating tales tell.
This talk has been one of the most rewarding for me as a student.
Davidmann, Sara. Ken. To be destroyed. Available at: https://www.saradavidmann.com/work/#/kentobedestroyed/ [accessed April 27, 2018]
Davidmann, Sara. 2018. Falmouth Flexible online tutorial. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/86/pages/guest-lecture-publication-sarah-davidmann?module_item_id=8348 [accessed April 27, 2018]