A number of adjectives spring to mind when viewing Peter Waterschoot’s book At the Skin of Time.
Sensual, sinister, threatening, erotic.
The mood is set by the tone of the work, and Waterschoot is speaking very softly.
This elegant yet covert collection of images leads us on a sinuous tour through a twilight world of dark muted colours and clandestine whispers, making of us, both observers and furtive witnesses as we pass through a shadowy assembly of hotels, car parks and corridors. A parade of masculine guilt, desire and fantasy . . . men do not feature in these pages . . . but they drive and control them.
Bedrooms populated from time to time with anonymous women, their faces intentionally omitted . . . no eye contact here . . . and predominantly attired in lingerie that suggest varying degrees of intimacy and compliance.
Unmade beds, sunsets and sunrises. Solitary cars waiting in forbidding, isolated yet enticing half-light. Stolen moments, whispered assignations, illicit activities that worship at the altar of Noir. Images that not only whistle softly to the memory of Wilder but would also settle comfortably into a dystopian Lynchian tableaux.
These are pictures that seem to resonate with a guilt and shame born of the forbidden. There is nothing celebratory here. Neon anonymity. Televisions glowing quietly in empty rooms. Dated interiors that seem to sigh in resignation. Dimly lit stairwells that warn and invite in equal measure.
Chairs . . . photographed in pairs, one image of what appears to be the back row of a cinema . . . but not just the back row, the corner . . . shhh . . . as far away as possible. The other, two chairs in a tired diner, this time back to back, the drab colours and stained wallpaper, drained observers of an all too familiar fractured epilogue.
A glitterball, normally the conveyor of merriment and celebration, is suspended in total darkness as if suffocated, struggling to exhale even one breath of light . . . rotating slowly to an absent audience . . . the party is over.
And why does the image of a dimly lit room seen through a wall of frosted glass, a small bookcase on the other side – dissolving into soft focus as if the glass were visual quicksand – disturb and unsettle?
Then the women. One prone…. face down, motionless on a bed, dressed in black underwear save for the silver shoes . . . a well-earned break . . . an innocent rest . . . or an invitation.
Another, zipping herself into what could be a costume or elaborate lingerie . . . or both. Preparations for the evening ahead, whatever that may be?
The action could be no more suggestive that if she were brushing her teeth, but the blood red drapes that form the back drop refuse to allow us such innocent thoughts.
And a third, sitting with her back to the camera, naked, her hair cascading down her back, her shield, her cloak of invisibility. Her head is bowed, her emotions belong to her, we are not privy to such intimacy.
Then finally the coda. Windows, all draped, all looking out onto the mundane, the reminder . . . the promise (or threat) of normality. The nets diffusing the day to come . . . and is it a coincidence that the final image has the drapes pulled back to allow us to see outside.
A new day . . . more conscience juggling . . . or maybe the realisation that you know the car behind those approaching headlights.
At the Skin of Time is a superb mood piece, and Waterschoot, like all the best storytellers has presented us with a collection of images that are all open to interpretation. A story with infinite possibilities and outcomes.
A beautiful, melancholy exercise in the fictional world of “what-ifs.”