Cherine Fahd, Apókryphos 9-1405, 2018-19
Courtesy of the artist

1. These Photographs of Trauma.

2. Apocrypha: writing of doubtful authorship or authority (writer unknown).

3. 8 January, 2018. Cherine Fahd and I meet at a pub in Redfern. Friends and collaborators since 2007, I had called her a week earlier to see if she would speak on the panel I was organising about collecting practices and vernacular photography. The topic was a shared passion, one we had spoken about at length in the past. Cherine insisted we meet up asap, she wanted to show me an envelope of photos taken at her grandfather’s funeral. By numinous coincidence, I had an envelope of photos taken by my deceased grandfather that I wanted to show her. In the lead up to our meeting, I searched for these photographs. Misplaced somewhere at home, they refused to be found. I was soon to understand why.

4. Every page in this book represents a day of our lives. As the book is being written, my feet leave a trail of language down south. Fragments of a story tossed aside from the main event, footnotes recording what the hand cannot hold. 

5. On the 26th he was hit
the 27th he died
buried on the 29th

A compassionate friend, a photographer once known, bears witness to a family cloaked in a uniform of mourning. Established 107 years earlier, Rookwood is desolate and remote in these pictures. Distant powerlines float, like suburban bunting for a party exhausted and spent. A rope dangling at the mouth of the grave, loaded and knowing, becomes complicit in its freeing of the dust. The dirt of a million old and new recruits is alive in this city of the dead. Time hovers like weightless residue or DNA, snapped into the present by the stench of mothballs heavy on their suits. Tears fall hot on the cold ground, mixed with sweat: a burden five decades in the making.

Octobers will never be the same again.

Cherine Fahd, Apókryphos 2-1404, 2018-19
Courtesy of the artist

6. Each story is reconstructed from fragments mistaken for memory. Curatorial revisionism for purists. Mixtapes for the unsung, unloved and undone.

7. My grandmother developed and printed domestic photographs at Pacific, a lab on Railway Street in Carlton, a nondescript southern Sydney suburb. Previously the site was the Odeon Theatre. These days it is a 24-hour gym.

8. My grandfather was an amateur photographer who built a darkroom in his house. He taught me how to take photos. Loading a gun with Kodak Professional T-Max 400 - 135 (35mm) - 36 exp.

9. Aim, point, shoot. Taking a photograph; taking a life. Photography has carried the burden of its violent metaphors since its inception—mute witness and captive audience all at once. The camera saw it all: every unspeakable horror of human suffering, an inheritance of pictures. 

10. Too young to attend the funeral, the granddaughter retrofits her presence 44 years later through an index of pseudoscientific affect. Reconstructing the memory of her family’s trauma and grief, the granddaughter sits inside and outside of the experience. The church that day is a portrait of gendered orthodoxy: women on one side, men on the other. The coffin is on a trolley in the aisle in-between.

How do we measure the period of time between when we die and the funeral, days later? The body in suspension, this limbo of restless nothingness. A creeping anxiety of what awaits. The aphasia of whiskey and Valium in the no-time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

11. “November 29
Mourning: not diminished, not subject to erosion, to time. Chaotic, erratic: moments (of distress, of love of life) as fresh now as on the first day.” (Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary, Hill and Wang, 2010, 72.)

12. The lines tattooed on her skin link where we found ourselves in the past with what comes next. Analogue amnesia sealed tight in a paper pocket; postcards from a reconstructed afterlife. Active listening, a deep read, the family chats on WhatsApp, carving sad face emojis into caves for the future granddaughter to discover and decode.

Shame is the same in every language.

13. How is intergenerational trauma passed down? Two of Mum’s youngest siblings died young. Two of Mum’s youngest sons died young. “The littlies, they didn’t make it.”

14. Fear of looking. Is this why she takes photographs? Keeping them hidden is the hardest part. Dancing naked, with chance in the corner of my eye.

15. Narcolepsy in the park is catalogued in Cherine Fahd’s The Sleepers (2005/2008). Bodies arranged and ready for burial. Asleep in the daytime, vulnerable and exposed, grass cushions an underworld of softening bones. Yesterday’s cemetery is a civic mattress shaded by colonial instincts, new worlds dreamt into being by the chosen few.

16. Beautifully contorted faces are a match for hands that slow dance in the space between our bodies. As children we never pulled faces in case the wind changed. On this wretched day, the crease on your brow is a tear in the flesh where the wind holds you tight.

Cherine Fahd, Apókryphos 7-1404, 2018-19
Courtesy of the artist

17. At the heart of Cherine Fahd’s practice is a tension between documentary and drama. The staged and unstaged. The Chosen (2003/2004) presents anonymous figures cooling down in a Paris heatwave on the grand sandstone banks of the Seine. The artist’s camera freeze frames the heat affected populace, who seek a momentary reprieve under the spray of fine mists. Influenced by historical images of spiritual rapture, The Chosen constructs spiritual wonderment from ordinary secular life. Her camera converts the wash of relief into depictions of intense feeling—visualising emotions that cannot be verified or fact checked. Apókruphos (2018-2019) reinstates the chosen few as the faces of her elders, picturing an emotional tightrope between grief and relief.

18. The house is a camera for hiding. We live for slow exposure. It hasn’t rained in days.

19. Rod Stewart, Sailing, (1975)

20. The Bangles, Eternal Flame, (1988)

21. The Dubliners, The Rocky Road to Dublin, (1964)

22. Meat Loaf, Heaven Can Wait, (1977)

23. Alice in Chains, Down in a Hole, (1992)

24. Moby, Porcelain, (1999)

25. Prince, When Doves Cry, (1984)

26. London Elektricity, Rewind, (1999)

27. Elton John, Rocket Man, (1972)

28. “Music plays such an important part in people’s lives that it now acts as the theme tune to their passing. Modern funerals are very much about personal choice, which can be reflected in the choice of music, dress, coffin, flowers, hearses or memorials.” (Andrew Trendell, 'Top 20 Most Popular Funeral Songs Revealed', Gigwise, 21 November, 2014)

Cherine Fahd, Apókryphos 1-1405, 2018-19
Courtesy of the artist

29. The coffin is being lowered into the ground at the scenic country cemetery. A light aircraft appears out of nowhere and swoops overhead as her funeral song plays. I return 14 years later, and Fast Car is the song set to the montage of photos that wrap up her young life in 4 minutes, 59 seconds. Her arm is wrapped ‘round my shoulder in one snapshot, as if the song is being written at that moment. 

30. September 2013. I was a pallbearer for my brother. Someone took a photo of six loosely related men delivering a dead man to a hole in the ground; compost for robbed futures. I lug the coffin on the left side, at the front, feetfirst. 12 years earlier I was a pallbearer for another brother. No photos were taken…did it really happen?

31. I made a lot of work about death, and I think in a way it’s been an attempt to try and quarantine death within the realm of representation, so that it’s far away from me. It’s like that idea that you’re lessening the odds of it happening or something, because the more you talk about it, it’s not going to happen. When people die unexpectedly it’s like, “Oh that was such a shock, it was such a surprise.” I think if I’m conscious of it all the time I might have a really long life. Look, I have a fear of death. But I suppose as you get older you become a little bit more robust in the way you think about it.

32. The grim reaper on TV upheld the AIDS hysteria typifying the time. I couldn’t face getting tested for years even though I knew deep down I was fine. Collecting scripts for PrEP, today, is yesterday’s AIDS joke.

33. She was always late in life. Late, now that she’s dead. Remembered and eulogised for existing within time differently to the norm. For many years, we saw her as a floating being, chronically late like she was always lost in transit. Her last years were consumed with grief for her mother’s death; it made her see time anew. The chaos of her sorrow made her seek order and punctuality, like she needed control over what was happening around her.

34. The final eulogy concluded by calling for a standing ovation. On our feet we applauded her life, joyously clapping her into the afterlife. 

35. How much time should pass before I delete dead friends and family from my phone contacts? After I found out she died on Facebook, I unfollowed her on Instagram. Please delete my Twitter when I die.

36. “Writing is how I attempt to repair myself, stitching back former selves, sentences. When I am brave enough I am never brave enough I unravel the tapestry of my life, my childhood.” (Kate Zambreno, Book of Mutter, Semiotext(e), 2017, 103.)   

37. Why are tear and tear spelled the same?

Cherine Fahd, Apókryphos 5-1405, 2018-19
Courtesy of the artist

38. I get a kick out of you. Kick out of life. Kicked out of school. Kick in some money. Kick back and relax. Kick the door down. Kicked off the team. Kick by INXS. Kick the habit. Kick the dog. Kick the bucket. Kick the stick. Spirit sticks. 

39. New to motherhood, she came back to her practice through walking and wood. A camera swings on her neck as she takes her firstborn for a walk in familiar parklands that are now strange and remote. The click of the shutter, the kick of the stick.

Fear of being a bad mother.

40. Will I regret never having children? I’ve left it too late. I tell myself the measure of human narcissism can be traced by its relentless pursuit of reproduction. A family line photocopied by photocopies of photocopies. After nagging for details, she admitted I was unplanned, we all were. All children are accidents or miracles.

41. “A 16-year-old Loftus boy was killed when he was hit by a train between Loftus and Engadine railway stations on Monday. Police said the boy ran across tracks and laid his head on the track in front of an oncoming 115km/h express train from Wollongong just after 4pm. The Jannali High School student was killed instantly, police said. Just five minutes before his death he had been with two friends who said he was behaving normally. The dead boy’s parents told police he had been attending a Pentecostal church and had become obsessed with the idea of going to heaven. Police say there were no suspicious circumstances.” (The Leader, 29 March 1990)

42. I’m sitting there reading a novel.
I know the ending because
I’ve seen the movie.
I’m sitting there reading the novel,
and I’m wasting my time
because I’ve seen the movie.

I’m sitting there reading
the novel, of my life,
knowing how it ends
because I’ve seen the movie.

43. “January 30, 1979
We don’t forget, but something vacant settles in us.”
(Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary, Hill and Wang, 2010, 227.)

44. Collection management is a career in fear against landfill. Incinerate my things and scatter the ashes of my distractions somewhere warm and nice.

Cherine Fahd, Apókryphos 5-1405, 2018-19
Courtesy of the artist

45. The gentle othering of the anonymous grave digger pictured. A whole world is built around him: he assumes the central role in the death ritual, holding the widow’s hand as she collapses. Alone but not lonely, he is a collector of experiences he’s yet to understand (born in the suburbs, he became a death apprentice after leaving school at 15). Decades later, his dirt stained khaki overcoat is oversized and unflattering, turning his muscular mass into a casket-ready rectangular form. 

46. Told stories, took photos. Favourite on his knee. Runaway with a new name, new town, new sound. School retort, police report. The books under my arms are heavy. Take me to the back lane near the almond tree with the swing. Hit the skin, feather pluck, say cheese. Photochemical acne romance bucked toothed uncircumcised miracle mile never smiled. Unstuck. 

47. I once caught her by surprise in the kitchen stuffing her face with bread and dripping. It filled her with shame, being witnessed privately comforting herself with a nostalgic signifier of the poverty from which she came. I recall how the bottom shelf of her fridge was always stocked with coffin-like rows of margarine. When one was finished, it was fast replaced, cold chemical tokens of life in the lucky country.

48. After the funeral, I tried and failed at initiating sex with my now ex. Fucking in rhythm and sorrow.

49. “I was powerless but to listen.”

50. Another one gone. I try to contain his memory, but it fades fast like a dream outshone by morning. High tides and flood haunts recurring dreams I’ve had since childhood. Will I drown? Shoes are draped over powerlines in a nearby street and I can’t remember what I did with your boots, your shoes.

51. If every page in this book denotes a day in the life, where do I put the endnotes? I never recognised him except in footnotes.

52. How to create a lasting memorial. Apókruphos.

53. W.P.C. “Willie” aka “John”. 08.02.2003. Estranged husband, father and grandfather. Photographer known.

The Apókryphos book was published by M.33 in 2019 and won the Australia New Zealand Photobook of the Year Award. It includes call and response texts by Cherine Fahd and Daniel Mudie Cunningham

Essay for book monograph Apókryphos, which won Cherine Fahd the Australia New Zealand Photobook of the Year Award.

Published by M.33 in 2019.

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