THE DEATH OF A BEAUTIFUL SUBJECT
ISBN 978-1-910401-06-4 Hb
This enigmatic and strangely unsettling book contains 26 photographs of butterflies originally taken by Sophy Rickett’s father, a butterfly collector. Rickett has altered most of them so that the butterfly is obscured against the background or cut out, leaving a butterfly-shaped blank space. We also have a short text, a series of fragmentary but vivid personal reminiscences, sympathetic to her father but reflecting on her shock and sorrow at his leaving home for another woman, and on her difficulty of making sense of family events, indeed of anything explained in terms of ‘facts’. Factual explanations, it seems, are never enough.
Much of Rickett’s work has embraced obscurity and the impenetrable nature of appearances, rejecting an idea of the photograph as a carrier of fact. The present work fits into that lineage, yet the text anchors this new work in the zone of family relationships and emotions, the author’s in particular. The photograph, Rickett has stated elsewhere, is not ‘about’ the thing depicted. So what is the ‘beautiful subject’ here whose death is referred to? Who or what might the butterfly represent? At the very least, Rickett’s treatment of the images enacts the removal, or loss, of an object of her father’s affections. One might read this as a gesture of retaliation, of mockery, of sublimated and perhaps reflexive violence; nothing is certain but these interpretive avenues are opened up.
Each image is accompanied by a fragment from a series of John Rickett’s emails to his daughter during the making of the work, all showing his cheerful eagerness to help with the project. On the bibliographic information page, at the very end of the book, we read: ‘Thank you Dad for allowing this project to unfold in the way that it did.’ It seems an acknowledgement that some hurt has been caused, tinged by a little guilt; almost an apology.