Seeing is Believing

As humans, we have a collective need for both meaning and belief; when logical thought fails to provide answers to the endless stream of thoughts in our lives, we are conditioned to look towards and believe in, that which lies outside of perceived reason. It rarely matters if our faith in something can be rationally explained; on the contrary, such ideas reflect the human condition to search for meaning and answers in something that is decidedly beyond our comprehension. We often struggle to permit anything in life to simply exist or happen without consequent explanation and are exceptionally fast to ascribe agency to anything and everything. Such a trait creates a place where faith, belief, spiritualism and the supernatural are truly omnipresent throughout the world. Importantly, such ideas are far from restricted to traditional religious and spiritual discourse, and it is the normality of belief in countless things that makes it such an alluring phenomenon.

Second Sight, the debut book from Melbourne based photographer Sarah Walker, reimagines these humanistic ideas into a photographic and physical space. Beautiful, rich, full-bleed photographs persist throughout the book, showing an array of fragmented and easily presumed, quotidian scenes. Faces, bodies, birds, chairs and overgrown landscapes amongst other items, are illuminated by ethereal and often artificial light, yet it is the associations that each photograph is loaded with where Second Sight operates so astutely. We move swiftly past the reasonable conclusions that the photographs are simply what they appear to be (that a chair only represents a chair), into the realm of the supernatural and it is this precise space where Walker intends to place us. Hands holding hands become ritualistic, clouds of dust on dark roads are traces of spiritual presence and animals quickly become sacrifices for the unseen; symbols of higher beings. The normality of these everyday scenes, paired with our endless search for something more and something unexplainable, creates a series that is exceedingly enticing. The book represents the epitome of possibility and each photograph has the potential to be reimagined countless times into arcane tableaux.

Whilst the photographs function autonomously as competent studies of light and form that probe our convictions, the sequencing of the book demonstrates Walker’s thoughtful approach to the work as a whole. Not only do we start to draw relationships between images across the book but numerous photographs are arbitrarily paired with pages of block colour. These immersive swathes of red, black and white, when placed in such direct proximity to photographs, cast further questions of their associations to the supernatural and the spiritual. At a point, we are confronted with a sequence of seven photographs portraying a woman (whom we cannot see her face) in numerous contorted positions on the floor. Performative and sculptural, the woman physically plays out this ceremonial act with each iteration, paired with an opposing page of red which immediately adopts new meaning within the context of Second Sight.

Colour is an active participant and the pensive construction of the book allows for a much deeper engagement with the narratives Walker forefronts, rather than leaning on photographs alone to catalyse thought. To its merit, Second Sight’s balances its mild cynicism towards this collective need for belief with its playful form, and the book restrains from being comfortably polemical; instead, Walker has constructed a book that maintains distance and allows us to examine, question and converse about our own personal beliefs and faiths. It is also compelling that the camera is the chosen instrument for Second Sight; the idea of ‘seeing is believing’ is notably pertinent to the photographic medium as well as the supernatural, where the framework for our belief is testimony. Thus, it seems impeccably relevant for Walker to play with the trickery imbued in photography and the almost religious repetition of her process to reflect on such a fundamental context to humanity. Second Sight is a work that is historical and contemporary in equal measure. Given belief’s immutable presence, Sarah Walker has created a beautifully sharp questioning of the intangible that we all believe in.