Prolonging Hesitations by Sean Sheehan
The latest book of photographs by Hannah Modigh, Delta, has a distinctive design befitting a limited edition of 500 and which includes a signed C-print. The book’s title does not appear on the spine and the hard covers look and feel like small (14.5 x 30 cm) and thin pieces of varnished wood. The solidity and intransigence suggested by the book’s design make a strong contrast with the feeling of impermanence and imminence that pervade the photographs within its covers.
There is a personal context for Delta, the death of a grandparent of Modigh’s followed within a fortnight by the birth of her child, which helps explain the particular sense of temporality that this work seems striving to embody. The images exist in the future perfect tense, intimations of what is to come, forms that will have completed themselves at some future and yet to be specified point; beginnings without sequels. If their reception remains yet to be determined, they cannot be exhaustively foretold and thus the space for hope remains open. This comes across in pictures of pregnant women and, for instance, a garden table with its four chairs standing mutely unoccupied. Other pictures, ones of the dying do not suggest hope. Some of the streams in a delta never reach the sea; fated to lose their individual identity in an amorphous, material sediment.
At that future point, when imminence gives way to event, what is part of the private space of Delta enters a public arena and becomes part of a larger world. In her earlier work, Hurricane Season (2016), Modigh shows the phenomenological present as cognisable within this wider social and political domain but in Delta there is no full presence, the performative is yet to be registered, and what is seen remains shrouded in an intimacy that is not always accessible for the viewer; making them, so to speak, untranslatable. What meaning emerges is ahistorical and universal.
A number of the images are enigmatic: dustpans hanging on a fence; two dogs lying together; a plastic bucket at the bottom of a tree trunk; a laundry basket on a window sill. Some others have an obscurity, darkness and heaviness that far from indicating a future coming-into-the light herald a resistance to visibility, a withholding of clarity; sequels without beginnings. An aphorism of Heraclitus, ‘Nature loves to hide’, seems applicable to the pictures of trees and flowers that are spread across two pages in the book.
Modigh writes of ‘looking for imprints that depict the presence of an absence …that life is about to break through, and where the end of a life makes itself felt, that carry a charge, like a prolonged hesitation’.
Delta by Hannah Modigh is published by Éditions Bessard.