The Sophist’s Mirror: Ben Cauchi

Ben Cauchi’s photographs may seem to spurn the contemporary world. Over the past decade he has worked consistently with the wet-collodion process that dates back to the ‘birth’ of photography in the mid-nineteenth century. For the most part he produces ambrotypes and tintypes, fixing shadowy images onto a glass or metal plate. These are unique objects, made inside the camera; coated, exposed and developed by hand. They leave the studio newly made but already looking old, slightly deadened, and eerily dislocated from the present.

Yet Cauchi has no interest in simply reviving or celebrating antiquated technologies. He uses historic processes to explore contemporary questions around our relationship to the photographic image. While looking back to Victorian modes and processes, Cauchi’s practice is turned on contemporary expectations of the medium—especially our continued desire to believe in the veracity of the photograph and its power to shape and make sense of the world that surrounds us. 

Cauchi unravels photography’s claims to truth and objectivity, along with its connection to the here and now, to being of and about the present. His is an art of interior spaces and states of being. Working with what is not there, rather than what is, he grants tangible form to the intangible, making the absent present. Rather than using the camera to capture moments of decisive action, Cauchi lingers on the lulls or silences that come before or after an event. He dwells on what is left behind or forgotten, that which hovers beyond the frame, or the passage of time itself.

The Sophist’s Mirror is testament to one artist’s sustained investigation into the nature and experience of photography and the psychological dimensions of viewing. These photographs may seem to arrive from another time and place, yet each tests and complicates the ways that photography can operate in and on the contemporary world.

City Gallery Wellington, 19 October 2012–17 February 2013