2013 Season I
Combining original and appropriated imagery with a conceptual approach, David Birkin's work reflects on the failure of images and the relationship between photography and loss. At its core is a concern for the intersection between the personal and the political, and limitations on visibility: absence, the unseen, the ephemeral and the ineffable. His current body of work considers the proposition that photography is as much about what cannot be seen, or isn't shown, as what is depicted visually. One of the images he recently completed, ‘I Was So Entranced Seeing That I Did Not Think About the Sight’, takes its title from Helen Keller's blindsight description of the New York skyline from atop the newly-built Empire State Building in 1932. The work was made by exposing a sheet of gelatin silver photographic paper to the light, whilst standing in the same spot Keller stood. After processing, the print was embossed with a braille translation of her description and framed without glass, so as to offer viewers who are unable to see (in a conventional sense) the chance to literally feel the "photograph". Another piece from this body of work comprises an original Associated Press wire-photo from 1992 depicting a mother at her child’s funeral in Kabul. The photograph has been overlaid with ultramarine pigment sourced from lapis lazuli mines in the nearby Badakshan Province in northeast Afghanistan, with a degree of opacity that obscures the original image. The title of the work, Pietà, relates to the fact that – owing to its scarcity during the Renaissance – lapis lazuli was reserved for painting the Virgin Mary’s robes in iconographic scenes of the Madonna and Child. Prior to these, David was working on an ongoing series titled "Confessions", for which he invited sitters to reveal something they had never previously disclosed, whilst sitting alone in a room facing a camera. When they felt ready, they opened the shutter, and when finished they closed it again, so that each photograph's exposure was determined by the length of time it's subject chose to speak. In the absence of any audio recording equipment, all that remained was a visual trace of the person's confession. Most recently, he was commissioned to photograph a portrait of a North Korean refugee for the Photographers' Gallery in London using this process, as the man was unable to reveal his identity due to security concerns for his family. David also photographed a soldier who had recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and asked him to disclose something that, either for personal or political reasons, he had felt unable to reveal previously. The work, "Unknown Soldier", took it's title from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, and was intended to provide its subject with a quiet space for reflection.