Rachel Phillips Statement

Artist Statement
This series Divinations physically adds new imagery to original 19th century cabinet cards using a transfer printing process. I was intrigued both by the beauty of the original contact albumen prints on the cabinet cards, and by the mystery behind each portrait. An antique photo highlights many paradoxes: we can hold a face preserved across time and space, yet beyond the sharply detailed surface, the photograph is obstinately mute in revealing more.

Each work depicts a method of divination (fortune telling), conjuring the past in a method appropriate to the Occidentalism and supernatural obsessed Victorians. Beyond such well known methods of fortune telling like palmistry, included are more obscure methods like divination by wind or a chance encounter with a stranger.

Though this series pays homage to the people and photographs of history, it is not intended to be only retrospective. Considering the photographic fate of someone before the lens 100 years ago leads to questions of our own future which—though it hasn’t yet happened—will almost inevitably become part of the unknown past. What will happen to today’s photographs? To those digital files, just sequences of numbers, residing in “the cloud”? What, ultimately, will happen to us? Will we be known? Will a photograph of us survive? Does it matter?

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