Sontag writes in ‘On Photography’ 'Photographs are, of course, artefacts. But their appeal is that they also seem, in a world littered with photographic relics, to have the status of found objects - unpremeditated slices of the world. Thus, they trade simultaneously on the prestige of art and the magic of the real. They are clouds of fantasy and pellets of information.'
Prelude- An analogue photo series by Dutch photographer Madeleine Kukic appealing to the themes of nostalgia and childhood. The photographs themselves feel like unpremeditated slices of Madeleine’s world, glimpses of how it is, how it was, to be a child-
When time is not yet important.
When seeing is believing,
When what we hear, smell, taste and touch create lasting memories that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.”
Madeleine a mother of two, stopped photography after having her first child several years ago, she has now returned to her work as a photographer with the project Prelude.
Below is a series of exchanges between Madeleine and I where we discuss personal and artistic development, starting and stopping and the production of art as a spiritual endeavour.
Moran Munyuthe: Why did you name the series prelude?
Madeline Kukic: In classical music a prelude is an improvisation to loosen the fingers before playing the real work. It was also meant for the musician to show their virtuosity. In this series l loosen my fingers after not photographing for several years. I also want to show, especially myself, what I’m capable of-I thought I couldn’t photograph anymore. Right now I think I finally know what I'm doing, in life and in photography. My next series will be named 'Study' (I’m busy working on it now). I felt after 'prelude' I wanted to see things not through the eyes of my children or through my eyes when I was a child, but see them through my own eyes again in present time.
MM: I really enjoy the analogy of classical music. In a recently published article you said, “When my daughter was born eight years ago, my interest in photography vanished completely. For fifteen years – almost my entire adult life – I had been passionate about photography. It was the common thread that bound everything together, gave purpose to my day, put food on the table, and provided me with an identity. But, with the arrival of my first child, photography suddenly struck me as absurd.” I would like to ask why you stopped taking photographs when you became a mother.
MK: Stopping photography was a very difficult decision and not an easy process. I did not want to make photographs anymore but my ego had a difficult time. I'm brought up with the sentence 'Een slimme meid is op haar toekomst voorbereid' which means: a smart girl is prepared for her future. Me giving up my profession meant I could not make my own money and I had to be dependent of my husband. Being in that position is not very accepted in the Netherlands. Although nowadays I see times are changing as more mothers choose to stay at home with their children for the first years.
When my mother got pregnant from her first child, her employer fired her. In that time, around 1969 it was normal and my mother fought to be a working mom. So for me choosing to stop working to be with my children was not an easy decision and I felt I had to explain myself a lot. Personally it felt like I failed and it took a lot of years to see that I didn't fail but I chose what was best for me and my family. I gave up my ego for them and I think my lack of interest in photography was just natural because I felt there was something much more important for me to do.
MM: So returning to your work could be interpreted as part of you testing yourself and drawing out your identity, as a person and as a photographer?
MK: Yes. I was testing myself but I also needed to find the right subjects. My husband once said, “You didn't stop working at all! You were just busy creating your subjects”. In prelude my muse is my daughter Anna.
The decision to start photographing again was actually quite difficult. My son was about to start going to school and I asked myself, ”what am I going to do with my free time?” I thought about being a postwoman or doing home care, but I didn't feel enthusiastic about it. One day I thought, “The only thing I can do is take photographs.” At first that thought didn't feel so good. Gradually I began to think about how I would like to start photographing again so I made a list with my wishes. Making that list I felt so much joy and energy but also this strange feeling of shame for choosing to do something that really felt good to me without considering what others would think about it. I actually started and picked up my camera on the 1’st of May 2014, :-), I went crazy shooting, I was so very happy that year. Which meant finally starting to like myself instead of looking for acceptance from the outside. So, I think in my case personal development goes hand in hand with artistic development. All big changes.
MM: Here’s an interesting tangent. A few days ago, I asked a friend about the changing self and identity and she quoted something quite interesting, she said, "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." What would be your thoughts on this?
MK: I don't have an answer whether time is a creation of mankind or it's something that just is, like gravity. I think every moment we experience is new and our surroundings change all the time. Some time ago, my son was on stage in school and performing a song, being totally in the moment, having so much fun singing with his friends, a week later he's on stage again but now he try’s not to be seen, singing softly, not really being in to it. This is because the first time some kids in the public laughed at him for being so enthusiastic. I guess it's not the same stage and it's not the same boy.
I can also relate, in my series Study, I often show two photographs made quickly after each other, but they are never the same. They look similar in many ways, but if you look closely everything’s changed in what they are conveying.
MM: Why did you choose to work in film?
MK: I love to work in the darkroom, moving around, the craft of it, having the feeling that I’m actually making something that I can hold in my hands. I even like the smell of fixer! It's intensive work and I have to focus and concentrate to get the result I want. I guess, in the dark there are no external stimuli so I focus on the work and on my thoughts about it. Often I get new ideas and things come together working in the dark.
Also using film slows me down whilst photographing. I'm a bit impatient so knowing every shot cost me money and knowing there are only 10 shots before I have to change film, slows me down. Working slow creates time to stay in contact with my subject, look better and find the right moment. It's not easy to indicate but the sight of an analogue print feels more honest to me. Digital is maybe more precise and sharp and that does something with the content, something I don't prefer. The world isn't perfect, clear and sharp, but most of the time it's blurry and confusing, to me anyway. I relate more, feel more, when I see imperfection. Therefore the technical perfection of digital photography was never a reason for me to switch. And I don't like to sit a lot behind the computer either and that’s what photographers do a lot these days.
MM: A lot of your pictures feature flowers is there any reason why?
MK: All the flowers I photographed in 'Prelude' I got from my children, mainly my son. When he gives me a beautiful flower and I accept it, we feel so connected in that moment. I guess by photographing the flower I can hold on to it, making it an artefact to save as a treasure.
MM: Why is she crying in this picture, what’s the story?
MK: She hurt herself climbing a tree and of course me photographing her instead of comforting her, added some extra frustration. I guess this photograph looses its feelings of pain and hurt by putting it in a series that shows a lot of the idyll. Talking of idyllic and aesthetic, I think you have two kinds of artists, the ones who want to disturb the comfortable and the ones who comfort the disturbed. Since I think life is not an easy trip, I choose to comfort. For now anyway.
MM: I think this picture is beautiful.
MK: Before I made this photograph I was showing my daughter the honeysuckle and how she could suck out the honeydew. I can remember the taste of it and the joy it gave me when I found one when I was a child, like an unexpected present. When I was little my father showed me how to suck out the honeydew, maybe one day she will show her own children. I also like that I’m secretly present in this photograph as seen by my shadow. In this series I choose to obviously not be there as the photographer but sometimes little accidental signs are there as a testimony of my presence.
If how we identify depends on when and where we exist, then Madeleine’s photographs transform us the viewer into the matriarch/ the mother figure. The nostalgic gaze cast by the camera makes us aware that we are not only looking at children but also a reflection on childhood.
Looking through the photographs in the series prelude, what really struck me was the general theme of identity in relation to time. Madeleine’s transition from a child to a mother, then to mother who photographs seeing through her children eyes was especially fascinating, it brings in to question how much of our identities is fixed and how much changes with time.