Every time I hear talking about the colour crimson, the astonishing In the Court of the Crimson King, album’s cover by King Crimson, comes to my mind. It is a work by Barry Godber, depiting the face of a screaming man (the so called Schizhoid man): the act of shouting, of course, deforms the man’s features and the mouth opens as a cave, one of the most emblematic symbols of subconscious in psychoanalysis. It is a detailed and expressive drawing that intrigues as much as frightens, especially the mind of a teenager, as I was, used to spend hours and hours listening to albums in her parents’ living room by herself.
In the same way, that same girl, now bookseller who passes her days surrounded by photobooks, cannot help but being impressed by another work of art whose title contains the word “crimson”. Crimson is, in fact, the color described and honored by Trent Parke in this book.
At this point, mentioning the etymology of the word to find out its meaning probably becomes necessary: it derives from Sanskritic and means “obtained from insects”, which describes how this peculiar nuance of red inclining to purple-blue can be found in nature, and how then humans , working on it, could get colors used in the make-up and paint industries.
From nature to industry the step is not so straightforward, yet their formal and conceptual link is well described here by Parke. On the one hand he gathers together images of skies and industrial landscapes, of factory chimneys ejecting crimson-tinted smokes, on the other he reports the epistolary exchange between two London Royal Society naturalists who in the 18th century observed the female cochineal, from which the colour crimson is extracted.
The Australian photographer remembers about his childhood, when he used to accompany his mother around his hometown, Newcastle (NSW) and look at the factory chimneys of a rapidly and incessantly growing nation. During the winter of 2020 in Adelaide, where he now lives, he went out for 6 months at dawn and dusk to photograph the skies on the very first and last minutes of daylight.
Crimson Line is a book and a project dedicated to light, photography’s primary element; Parke has a strong relationship with the camera since his childhood, when he used to hang around with his mother’s Pentax Spotmatic and develop the films in his laundry/improvised darkroom.
The book is charming and fascinating, yet also unsettling and perturbing: the study on colors and their aesthetic intensity attenuate the brutality of industry, whose fumes are co-responsible for those ecological disasters which recently have been succeeding each other just too often. Parke’s photography, which never represents the real with complete fidelity and in this case chooses an artistic approach not only in the style, but also in the experimental intuition, reminds us of the holistic dimension of living, of the bond between observation, knowledge and experience, all linked by man’s more or less invasive intervention. Yet humans never appear, probably for a question of timing - Parke in most cases photographs during the ten minutes right before sunrise - but mostly, I believe, to state a presence via an absence, a being via a non-being, the full via the empty, which for Parke, as nature and industry, are complementary, even in their most aggressive dimension.
The photographs are mainly horizontal, offering a big portion of the real; the observer’s eye eases into these images effortlessly, without trauma, quite the opposite, trusting the author, even though at the beginning these tonalities can leave us disoriented, unable to fully understand what has been going on in front of our eyes. As soon as we get through the book, we are moved towards a possible interpretation thanks to the essential repetition of the same subject: we have been looking at a multi-layered chromatic study, from the direct observation of a natural phenomenon - the sunrise and sunset light - to the industrial use of such colors. There is more: as Parke mentions, these nuances take us back to creation, both primordial and human, every time a baby is born.
This book, of an astonishing conceptual formalism, is also a perturbing meditation on our individual and collective behaviors, as much as on our subconscious thinking and responsibilities.
Cover: Metallic Hardback / Foiled Stamped
310 x 220 mm
TRENT PARKE - BIO
Trent Parke is known for his poetic, often darkly humorous photography that offers an emotional and psychological portrait of his home country of Australia – from the southern outback to its busy beaches. Though rooted in documentary, his works sit between fiction and reality, exploring themes of identity, place, and family life.
Parke was born in 1971 and raised in Newcastle, New South Wales. Using his mother’s Pentax Spotmatic and the family laundry as a darkroom, he began taking pictures when he was around 12 years old. He began his career as a press photojournalist and in 2007 became the first Australian to become a Full Member of Magnum Photos. His work has been exhibited widely and is held in major institutional collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, Museum of Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, Artbank, Magnum London and Magnum Paris. In 2015, solo exhibition The Black Rose, premiered at the Art Gallery of South Australia, featuring photographs, light boxes, video, written texts and books.
Parke has published four monographs, Dream/Life in 1999, The Seventh Wave with Narelle Autio in 2000, Minutes to Midnight and The Christmas Tree Bucket in 2014. Crimson Line was recently published by Stanley / Barker.