CURATOR Aaron Lister PUBLICATION publisher Victoria University Press, Wellington; texts Glen Barkley, Geoffrey Batchen, Aaron Lister
Ben Cauchi's photographs seem to spurn the contemporary world. The Berlin-based, New Zealand photographer uses the wet-collodion process that dates back to photography's 'birth' in the mid-nineteenth century. His ambrotypes and tintypes fix shadowy images onto a glass or metal plate. They are unique objects; the plates are coated, exposed, and developed by hand. They leave the studio newly made but already looking old, slightly deadened, eerily dislocated from the present.
Yet Cauchi has no interest in simply reviving or celebrating antiquated technologies. He uses historic processes to explore contemporary questions around our relationship to the photographic image. Victorian modes and processes are turned on contemporary expectations of the medium—especially our continued belief in the veracity of the photograph and its power to make sense of the world around us. Cauchi unravels photography’s claim to objectivity and its assumed connection to the here and now.
The Sophist’s Mirror is testament to Cauchi's sustained investigation into the nature and experience of photography and the psychology of viewing. It begins with the photography-as-parlour trick work that he rose to prominence with. Cauchi often features in these photographs, in an awkward blend of self-portraiture and performance which is less about presenting the self than with performing photography’s histories for a sceptical contemporary audience.
The show also tracks Cauchi’s retreat into a more philosophical and abstract consideration of photography. It includes the eight-part Borderland—Cauchi’s first exploration of digital process and their cinematic possibilities.