The serpents are on their way to oblivion. Petals leap against the dark arcs of hawkmoths. And all the while, the mind’s architect opens her hands, as the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously wrote, “to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth” to these “shadows of imagination”—to extend what we would extend to no other fantasy: our own “willing suspension of disbelief.”
This is what it’s like to encounter Amanda Tinker‘s series, “Small Animal,” where nature’s own dreams are procured and suspended before us in ethereal menageries.
I imagine Tinker, like Alice, perpetually at the brink of Wonderland. But no cake or tea will get you there. You need the prism of a camera lucida. “This instrument,” Tinker reminds us, “is part of the origin story of photography, giving way to a desire to fix ephemeral images permanently.” In this issue of Od Review, Tinker explains the mechanics of these fragile, lucid fantasies.
The camera lucida is a light chamber…
An illusion is registered in the way light is refracted and reflected in the centuries-old optical device, the camera lucida. Designed as a tool for artists, a prism is attached to an articulated, insect-like arm and trained over a piece of paper.
The device requires one’s eye to be partially placed over the prism, and then a superimposition of a reflected view and the paper appears below – a ghost view of nature, neither here nor there, but visible all the same. Remove one’s eye and the figment vanishes. This instrument is part of the origin story of photography, giving way to a desire to fix ephemeral images permanently.
Like the superimposition of image on paper in the camera lucida, the history of photography forms a kind of preternatural overlay in my own work. The large view camera I use, with its gears and glass, factors greatly into the work. My camera is a projection screen, transforming nature though optics to a more diminutive, intimate terrain. My 21st century view considers the symbiotic and embattled relationship between humans and nature. The relationship is as fragile as the fantasy of each ecosystem I construct for the camera.
In this series of photographs I arrange details from nature collected from my family garden, children’s books and vintage identification guides behind large glass panels. Each photograph looks at the natural world as if it were held just for our observation, suspended far from any recognizable landscape.
Nature’s small beauties—birds, butterflies, twigs and petals—become objects of layered contemplation, and human figures appear as gentle antagonists, imbuing purpose, and prodding nature along.
Feature Image: Untitled (Hands with Petal Arc) © Amanda Tinker
Amanda Tinker is currently part of The Halide Project in Philadelphia called “Second Nature.” The show runs April 6th – May 12 2018. For more of Tinker’s work, visit her website, Amanda Tinker Photography. And be sure to check out her Instagram.