The medium of photography has a long history of association with supernatural phenomena invisible to the naked eye. As early practitioners mastered the chemical rhythm for developing prints, they learned to become accustomed to glitches, building up an understanding of how light and reflections manifested in the images that enchantingly appeared across their paper during development. Any luminous glint or muddied overlay could be interpreted as a signal from an alternate dimension, revealing itself through the technological mechanism of the camera’s lens. At last, a scientific invention had the potential to empirically justify the existence of parallel realms.

For Canadian photographer Amy Friend, this investigation into alternative universes pervades in her contemporary artistic process. In Multi-verse, the artist compiles images from a range of time periods, combining archival shots with photographs of her own taking. She then physically alters the prints, resulting in regular, candid moments disrupted by shards and slivers of blinding light.

Beneath the Surface. © Amy Friend. Finalist, LensCulture Art Photography Awards 2018

The word ‘multiverse’ is a term coined by physicists and cosmologists, referring to a theory that claims the existence of multiple universes existing alongside one another, including the one that we currently occupy. Friend intentionally breaks the term apart with a hyphen, switching ‘multiverse’ to ‘multi-verse,’ highlighting the word’s more poetic potential. “In addition to the specifics of the multiverse definition, I play with the meaning of the word by breaking it apart,” she explains. “This references the numerous stories or ‘verses’ we may encounter or recall through these photographs.” The varying locations and time periods of the subject matter also work to further dissect the idea of multiple narratives existing together in one universe, while the striking light interventions signify the emergence of a more powerful, uncanny presence. “These interventions are aimed at interrupting expectations and expanding our interactions with the photograph and its meaning,” says Friend.

While the series tackles this broader ethereal theme, the artist also articulates its timely allusion to a global existential discomfort. “As I worked on this project, the ongoing environmental destruction, political turmoil, and human rights violations (to name a few and not lightly) played a part in how I related to the imagery,” she explains. “My initial response was to create or source oppositional imagery, presenting simple moments from everyday life – moments of tranquility, beauty, or portraits of mothers and children. But as I worked on the series more and more, I felt it necessary to include photographs that are capable of suggesting or referencing undercurrents of turbulence. So I used images of soldiers and floodwaters while manipulating them, indicating their darker elements at play.”

Is Anything Real? © Amy Friend. Finalist, LensCulture Art Photography Awards 2018

The passage of time therefore becomes less linear in Friend’s work. Instead, she suggests that there is always a possibility for events, moments and gestures to come full circle, as history – and the universe – repeats itself within a boundless, nonlinear space. By using photographs, a medium long associated with recording reality, she experiments with bending time and events. “The medium of photography has always held a currency of possibility,” says Friend. “In this series, I work to find meaning in the chaos, to be with it and to search for an alternate story from where we are – a multiverse.”