Thursday, 26 February 2015

Photograph Album

I had started this project of working with stains by photographing the marks in my tea-cup and then getting them digitally printed onto fabric. Suddenly, about a month ago, it struck me that I wanted to work with photos and not have them printed on fabric. I wanted to use photographs from an album and embroider them. I went to the photo album of stains on my computer, edited some images – posterized them and played around on with the little photoshop stuff I had picked up over the years.

 There was a sense of urgency to the whole process. I was excited and wanted to see what would emerge, as much as the need to work through  a very stressful phase where I wasn’t getting the usual time to exercise, meditate and write in my journal – dealing with all that came up with the kind of careful scrutiny and analysis I have used to deal with the emotional build-up. I was quite stressed and didn’t have the patience to work with the hand so I used the sewing machine. Actually it was next to impossible to really get much done with hand sewing. Photo paper is thick and the stitches were large and gangly and didn’t really do much to alleviate or express the frazzled state.
I hadn’t really used the machine much since my last lesson; the experience of which I shared in a recent post. I didn’t have a clue as to how the machine would respond to photographic paper but some exploration and experimentation revealed that the machine is really quite amenable. If I had any problem it was with the paper, which tore easily. But that was resolved by using fabric beneath and above the paper. Yes, this did sort of create a veil and softened the stains, which made me want to add another element. And that was when I decided to burn the photos.

Armed with candles, some I burned with the fabric already stitched. And some were set alight before I put them under the scrutiny of the needle. As the photos of the stains, that I had recorded some time in 2009, burned, I realised that I was in some sense burning the stains – those marks that symbolized embarrassment, guilt and shame. I felt my frazzled nerves calm down almost as if I was off-loading emotional baggage - catharsis was taking place and without the usual ritual of conversations.

Burning photos, I found, was different to burning ordinary paper.  I didn’t want to really burn them to ashes so I kept a close watch over the photos as they burned and noticed a few things. They burned slowly. And instead of shrivelling up with a bundle of soft and feathery ash beneath them, like regular paper did, the ink smoulders, the paper melts and cracks. The ash is not soft and papery and in some sense purified by the fire, like paper being reduced to ashes – it has a kind of ugly quality.  It is not even ash, the photos crackle into a kind of putrid, thick and almost sticky, black substance. Photographs being burned created the oddest sensation which I encapsulated in a poem.

Yellow Orange
within the burning red  

sets ablaze

Ink smoulders
Paper melts
crackles into putrid ash

After the ritual of burning I sewed into the layers of photo-paper and fabric. It was a very intense process. Controlling the machine - to go round and round the marks, as I do by hand, is easier said than done. Especially with a novice like me trying to do it, but I had such fun. I wasn’t interested in making a piece of work that spoke of fine craftsmanship but wanted to explore the idea of erasing marks in the mind – memories that mark us. Going round and around the marks allows for tracing those marks – like going over the conversations or experience and putting them into perspective.

As I worked with the machine and then the hand - sewing in those odd details that only the hand can do, I realized that the stains or marks of experience that one may try and ‘burn’, are never really erased from memory. They can be buried in time, warped through its seconds and minutes, months and years, but what the mind may feel is forgotten becomes embedded in the body. The body doesn’t forget.
Those cells which supposedly renew themselves, they seem to retain the nature of our experiences in a way that our minds seem to have forgotten. I mean, think about it: if we have truly erased, forgiven and forgotten, then what accounts for the countless diseases that abound? 

As a healer I am all too familiar with the idea of stuff being buried under the carpet which shows up as dis-ease and therefore I think it is more about pushing things out of our minds, which often  may seem as if we have forgotten.  It’s worth pondering on why some people are healthier than others – especially those who are more cantankerous, miserable and vocal about their woes.

sewn as thought 

These marks
buried in time

warped through weft   

the body
doesn't forget


  1. This is outstanding! The patterns, images morph into a creative landscapes. Each one reacts differently to the elements.

    1. Thank you Amit - for reading and writing in. Its great to read your response - very encouraging. :-)

  2. stunning. causes a frightening ache, to experience this level of beauty of work and mind.

    1. Thank you Heather, I am at a loss for words.....

  3. rekindling. rebirth. transformation.
    complex; beautiful. rugged.

    1. Yes, Austere, it is about transformation in more ways than one. Thank you for reading and for writing in. I appreciate your comments.

  4. What a fabulous process of experiment & discovery. Enjoyed the stitch & burn especially. Very insightful title; thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you Lina for stopping by. I am glad that you enjoyed the stitch and burning and found the experiment, process and discovery insightful. I hope you will stop by again. Thanks again.

  5. You are amazing...... This innovation is r an inspiration to beginner's like me

  6. Thank you Parimala Devi Dinesh, I am touched by your comment.