Rendered in colour or monochrome, with the aid of a flash or natural light, the images are the ghosts of those who never knew that this picture would be their final memory for others to keep. Owing to our balk at morbidity or the distraction of life we never contemplate the solitary picture that will accompany the final words of eulogy upon our passing. It is a curious thing to entrust such a significant act to those with whom we cannot deliberate. The cruelty of death is met by the cruelty of editing and the last picture is offered to an unknowing world, resplendent in its earnest simplicity.
A community’s reaction to death is reliant on contemporary as well as historical values and experiences. Some hide from the rawness it brings preferring to sanctify the loss through rigorous solemnity. And yet others expose it as a natural and unavoidable part of life itself. Such are the necrologs – as described by Emiliya Karaboeva – the pasted paper portraits of the deceased that line Bulgarian street walls and locations associated with the departed. They instill a stoic, public pride in the privacy of grief. Face Death reflects the latter, and in this acceptance there is an almost macabre celebration, a hint of irony.
It is curious that while the portraits stand firmly frozen in the past, like all other physical attributes assigned to the anonymous sitter’s being, the pictures deteriorate. With their eyes edging to obliteration, a final breath appears to condense beneath the plastic covering; the grime of pollution accumulates; the scratch and tear of unidentified indifference desecrates with a last-ditch indignity; a spider’s presence adds gothic intonation to the fading ink beneath. Death eventually comes to the necrologs as it came to the sitters, and yet they also exist in a continuing afterlife.
In her poem Warm Weather, the Bulgarian poet Dostena Angelova-Lavergne recites the lines “Chains / Of endless details / Imprisoned the dead / Amidst / Two unspecified worlds”. And so it is with Face Death – these chains of endless details caught on film or pixel imprison the sitter in a timeless frame. They are caught in a vortex of the ever changing physicality of reason, while residing in the temporal ambience of mnemonic veracity.
The Royal Photographic Society IPE 158