(These are gallery notes for Beloved, a forthcoming exhibition of photographs by Darren Andrews at Lancaster City Museum)

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Death is the principal subject of photography. The fascination a photograph holds for us lies in our knowledge that the frozen moment captured in the image has passed. Whether chemical or digital, and whether taken over eight hours (like the earliest surviving photograph taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826) or a millisecond, a photograph is a monument to dead time, to the past, a record of loss. The bitter-sweet pleasure of viewing family photographs rests, for instance, on the knowledge that the people, places and events on display in the images are all locked irretrievably in the past.

 

Appropriately, then, this latest series of photographs by Lancaster-based photographer Darren Andrews takes death as a central theme. Shot in cemeteries around Lancashire, Beloved consists of images of headstones, memorial statues, makeshift shrines and grave tokens left by grieving relatives. Thus, this is a series of photographs about contemporary rituals around death and the ways in which we commemorate the loss of friends, family members and lovers with sculpture, flowers, children’s toys, kitsch decorations, letters, poetry and religious text and imagery.

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This is the first body of work Andrews has shot with a digital camera, and the hyper-clarity and intense colour of the medium reveals another moving dimension of this imagery. Beloved shows the way in which these symbolic monuments to the dead are all also undergoing beautiful decay. The photographs capture the rich textures of frost-damaged, acid-rain etched, soot-stained and lichen-covered granite and marble, the rich colours of the withered flowers, rotting wood, faded plastic, and matted fur of soft toys. There is a long tradition of the ‘memento mori’[1] in European art, art-works that remind us of the fragility and brevity of life through such symbolically loaded imagery as skulls, burning candles, delicate blossoms, ripe fruit and hour-glasses. This series of photographs about death and decay is a subtle, moving and fascinating contribution to this tradition. 

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[1] Latin for ‘Remember that you will die’

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