Friday, 23 May 2008


All images courtesy of Maureen Paley gallery. (From top) 1. Untitled - October 1998, c-type print 122x152cm, 1998. 2. Untitled - September 2006, c-type print 122x163cm, 2006. 3. Untitled - March 2004, c-type print 122x163 cm, 2004. 4. Untitled - March 2002, c-type print 122x162cm, 2002. 5. Untitled - May 2004, c-type print 122x163cm, 2004. 6. The Dentist, c-type print 122x183cm, 2003. 7. Butterfly Catchers, c-type print 122x152cm, 1999. 8. Untitled - January 2000, c-type print 122x183cm, 2000. 9. Untitled - January 2007, c-type print 122x163cm, 2007. 10. Untitled - October 2006, c-type print, 122x163cm, 2006. 11. Untitled - May 1997, c-type print, 122x152cm, 1997. 12. Untitled - May 1997, c-type print 122x152cm, 1997. 13. Untitled - June 2007, c-type print, 122x152cm, 2007.

This month sees the publication of Hannah Starkey: Photographs 1997-2007 (Steidl). Images from this last ten years of work were also the focal point of Starkey's recent presentation as part of Tate Modern's The Art of Andrei Tarkovsky symposium. There Starkey outlined her fascination and passion for the language of photography, connecting her work to a current plethora of artists working with constructed tableau, but adding that she had always thought of pictures like this. Photography, she said, was " a process of observation and consideration."

Within the context of a film making symposium, it was interesting that Starkey's work - often referred to as "cinematic" - was about a commitment to the single image - although, as the above sequence demonstrates, there is much resonance and dialogue whenever Starkey's images are brought into juxtaposition. The single image, Starkey outlined, was the product of many relationships, formal and social. It was a plane where the outside world and inner perception meet. It was an encounter of the every day, the formal and the intangible, that, for the viewer, lasts as long as they are interested.

Starkey presented her working process as one of collaboration - with people, places and the language of photography itself. She spoke of layering experience and memory towards the production of an image. Whilst the image represents some form of artistic resolution, Starkey also described her process as producing something inexplicable. At Tate Modern she referred to Barthes' notion of the punctuum, narrating how, in looking at an image, she would follow his advice to close her eyes and see what detail surfaced in the mind.

Many of Starkey's ideas about the image seemed to come out of an attempt to articulate something about this space of the inexplicable. She spoke of the photograph as a metaphor between reality and experience, and of her desire for an image in which, perhaps, an internal psychological time was stilled. Indeed, the interplay between real and imagined movement and stillness emerged as a useful dialectic for thinking about her images. Starkey provocatively suggested that the composition of a photograph could possess a quality of movement that creates an illusion of movement. Her sense of the inexplicable often depended on paradox for its clarity: work out what memory is whilst making memories, she said, and create images in the present to represent a future memory.

Starkey was speaking at the conference because the organiser, Nathan Dunne, had identified something Tarkosky-like about her images. This lead her to research the film maker. Curiously, what Starkey found most inspiring about Tarkovsky was his way of working: the realisation of his films through sheer will and the acting out of one's personal belief. She identified with the way in which Tarkovsky's creativity holds you in a psychological moment and how he was fascinated with bits of reality that became possessed of the quality of a magic lantern.

Tarkovsky also contributed to the space Starkey outlined in which nothing could stand in the way of making the image, but where this was non-aggressive and depended on an honesty in communicating with people. At its best, Starkey suggested, this created a fluid working space characterised by chance and serendipity and, often, non-verbal communication.

In her own work, as can be seen here, the result is a rich, troubling, elliptical suite of images that, Starkey herself hopes, will seduce the viewer with the aesthetic but then move into a critical space where the image is deconstructed.