Stephen Roach’s photographs have been often described as dream-like, and it is an epithet that seems strikingly appropriate while describing ‘Flowers of the Night’, a body of work that he made in India at the beginning of 2011.
Made in Pune, Ahmedabad and Delhi – these photographs clearly display the surreal sense of the haunted, of suspended time, of in-between and threshold spaces that critics have observed Roach’s work generally exhibits, inhabits and portrays.
Roach says “I was drawn to gardens and the evening; the gardens are private gardens and the people photographed are friends… the work is intimate and a continuation of the work I normally do where I live, but it is the first time that I have deliberately photographed in the evening. India has a rich tradition of intimacy and the night, especially in miniature paintings, music and poetry. A time for lovers to meet, but also a time that is dangerous and frightening, for in this tradition nature is always near.”
The prominence of nature and its complicated relationship to culture as both source and antithesis is a constant exploration in Roach’s work. And one that forms a central strand of this series as well, where the juxtaposed close ups and the long shots of flowers with the face of a woman, unveils both paradoxes and coexistence.
“The evening, darkness and the night are [both] abstract and intimate, a place and a time where one loses oneself or where one finds oneself,” Roach remarks. Light, colour and mood both bring these photographs together and keep them apart; and the audience also simultaneously find and lose themselves through the ambiguity in these images. Roach’s work speaks of both the immediacy and the distance between object, subject and viewer – and its conscious framing underlines this duality by producing a surreal atmosphere that sits on the precipice of the ordinary and everyday.
As critics have pointed out of Roach’s previous work, there is something inherently unstable about the meanings produced in his photographs. They form and are reshaped, feel like they have been grasped and then disappear, largely in part due to a lack of clear resolved narratives. Thus, even though the photographs illuminate a particular reality, they are also far more reflective of an obscure interpretation that is disorienting in the ways it refashions the familiar and the unknown.
As Roach phrases it, in ‘Flowers of the Night’, “darkness illuminates and has its own luminescence, with light in the images moving from the natural to the artificial. As in our lives, much of the artificial ‘white’ illumination is digital… telecommunication and the white light, or noise, that it gives off… Young men and women telephoning each other, connecting to each other over distance and in the overwhelming night and it’s garden… Yet disconnecting them from where they are physically; illuminating but not illumined and not necessarily enlightened.”
Stephen Roach was born in 1951 in Australia. In 1979, he moved to Japan, after which he lived in France before moving to Italy in 1982, where he has since been based. He has exhibited widely in Europe, Australia, Japan and the USA. His work has also been reproduced in several books, catalogues and magazines.