What were you doing twelve years ago? Were you happy then? Did you have plans, dreams? Have things turned out as you expected?
Twelve years ago, photographer Elina Brotherus arrived in Chalon-sur-Saône, France for an artist residency. Armed with her camera and a bunch of sticky notes, Brotherus did her best to learn French and adjust to a very different place while documenting the entire experience. The final product, Suite françaises catalogued Brotherus' attempt to acquaint herself with a new language, a new country, a new culture.
Now, twelve years later, Brotherus returns to the exact same site in France as a very different person. She is now the teacher, giving workshops in French, rather than the student. Indeed, in the intervening years, she has settled in France and established herself firmly as an artist. Looking back at herself those twelve years ago, she is able to reflect on how far she has come, how much has changed. In her photographs, she is confronting both herself, in the moment, and her self that existed a dozen years ago. Gone are the simple sticky notes, replaced by long passages (written in French) that explain her feelings with detail and nuance. Gone is the young woman at the start of her career, replaced with the older woman who knows herself. Or does she? Aren't we always looking for answers?
The photographs of 12 ans après juxtapose two instants in Brotherus' life and thus offer a document about the continuum of change. These photographs, though only momentary glimpses, are a testament to the passage of time, the transience of things. And yet, at the same time, some things never change. Brotherus' photographs also offer us that ceaseless dichotomy of progress and return, change and circularity. The camera, that instantaneous documenter, that seemingly objective but deeply subjective capturer of life seems like the perfect instrument to convey Brotherus' search for answers that will never fully be found.
Editor's Note: Elina Brotherus' photographs will be shown from November 12th to December 20th at The Wapping Project, which recently relocated to the Ely House in Mayfair, London.