This tale is true, and mine. It tells
How the sea took me, swept me back
And forth in sorrow and fear and pain,
Showed me suffering in a hundred ships,
In a thousand ports, and in me…
(excerpt, Old English Poem)
Within this new body of work, I continue to deconstruct issues surrounding familial relationships, and the struggle to secure a sense of self and place in an often chaotic world. For over 20 years I have intermittently made photographs of my father, often including myself, exploring our relationship and the process of aging. In The Tale is True, I return to the father-son narrative, using multi-panel panoramas (polyptychs) to explore a family’s perseverance as they struggle to avoid an entropic slide toward ruin. Their Cape Cod family home, a legacy of generations of Yankee prosperity and tradition, serves as a symbol of identity, entrapment and history. Within these photographs, I unfold the story of a father and son trying to maintain their physical and emotional footing while being swept up in the confluence of a complicated past and uncertain future. The tension between disillusionment and hope pervades this narrative, and is further punctuated by allegorical and symbolist cues within my multi-panel arrangements.
Much like the polyptychs of Renaissance ecclesiastical painting, each of these photographs offers the viewer the opportunity to explore from panel to panel the universal story of man’s frailty, and travails of the human spirit. Just as earlier paintings displayed stories or religious histories coupled with the mystical and mythological, I utilize narrative and metaphor to reveal philosophical and spiritual themes of fate and faith, and the necessity of patience in adversity.
The form, concept and titling of the series is explicitly drawn from The Seafarer, an Old English elegy which tells the story of an old seafarer facing the hardships of his past in an attempt to create meaning out of his life. This poetic reference finds visual presence within the details of the images: figurines of sea captains, paintings of tall ships under sail, slivers of shimmering ocean glimpsed beyond the ruin of the house. The poem, though mournful, ends with an uncertain, but lasting beauty. It’s my intention that the photographs serve as a testament to perseverance; within even the bleakest of histories there exist threads of enduring hope, reminding us that even in the face of great adversity, we adapt and endure.
For years I have been actively documenting my life and the lives of those around me, recording events and attempting to create order in a sometimes chaotic world. While my photographs focus on the personal, the familiar and the simply ordinary, the work strikes a balance between autobiography and fiction. Within the photographs physical distance is often manipulated to represent emotional distance. The casual glances people share can take on a deeper significance, and what initially appears subjective and intimate is quite often a commentary on the larger contours of life.
For me, the construction of panoramic photographs, comprised of various single images, acts as a visual language. Focal planes shift, panel by panel. This sequencing of photographs and shifting of focal planes allows me the luxury of guiding the viewer across the photograph, directing their eye; an effect which could not be achieved through a single image.
I continually aspire to represent the spaces we inhabit, relationships we create, and the objects with which we surround ourselves. I hope the messages the photographs deliver speak to the personal as well as the universal experience. I find the enduring power and the sheer ability of a photograph to express a thought, a moment, or an idea, to be the most powerful expression of myself, both as an artist, and as an individual.
Nominated by David Acton, Curator of Photography, Snite Museum of Art
Visit David’s website to see more of his work. davidhilliard.com