The Shadow Line
I found it when I was out walking, and brought it home. It lay in the barn for several months before I took the first photograph of it. The next ones came by themselves, as if I had sharpened my faculties and started to notice a reality I hadn’t been seeing before.
It all started with that one skull.
I would find them in the woods, in roadside ditches, in the attic. Friends would bring round ones they’d found, or tell me where they’d seen one... that’s synchronicity, I guess.
It is these ones found outdoors that I value the most, with flaws, or showing traces of decay, or with remains of organic matter still on them. They are the ones that show the passage of time most clearly.
My skulls are laid out on the table in front of me, cheek by jowl, as it were. At first I had trouble imagining the animals they came from. Experts can identify them at first glance, interpreting the various anatomical details as if reading a book and matching the names of the creatures to their pictures. I’m learning slowly.
I imagine the skin stretched smooth over the skull, the thick hair, the alert, black eyes and moist nose. I guess at how it was joined to the spine, and how its motor system worked. I take note of the similarities between certain species. The skull of a dog is similar to that of a fox or a badger, but the skull of a beaver or a turtle are evidence of completely different evolutionary paths. For a while I wanted to call this cycle Darwin.
What is the consciousness of an animal? Its sharp senses, which give it a spectrum of experience of which we cannot even begin to conceive? How do animals perceive death? Are they, too, aware that we all have our ordained place in the circle of passing on physical matter?
Behind the shadow line, something is there. You know the feeling, when you stare and stare into the darkness. You stand, absolutely motionless, straining your eyes and ears, and you can sense you are being watched. You’re not alone, though you can’t prove it.
‘According to the light compass orientation theory, for moths navigating in the dark, their lighthouse is the moon. If they maintain a constant angle relative to the moon as they fly, they move in a straight line. This is called menotaxis, or compass reaction. Even covering significant distances is not a problem, and does not affect their flight path. A problem arises, however, when the insect perceives an artificial light source. If it adopts this as its reference point, its position relative to the light will change after even a very short distance. So the moth instinctively alters its course and moves closer to the light, which results in a spiral flight, usually to the death.’ (G. Winiarska)
What is it, then, to go out into the darkness, without any form of artificial light or compass, ignoring everything common sense tells you? To stop the car in the woods in the dead of night.
To wander among the trees in the rain. To hold your breath and strain your ears in the darkness. To trust your senses, surrender yourself to them completely. You can come close, but you can never fully understand the rules in play out there. We are animals.
It is not a light, a streetlamp or a shooting star. On the contrary, it is something hidden there, living, breathing. I know that.
[The full series consist of 17 skull images and 41 other pictures, sizes varies from 110x160 to 10x15 cm)