Darkened Days, a series of black and white photographs by the Swiss artist Simone Kappeler, is currently being shown at the Douglas Hyde Gallery – a phenomenal space physically located within, though still independent of, Trinity College in Dublin. Gallery visitors dramatically descend into the vast cube-shaped space via a staircase. The concrete ceiling is perhaps more reminiscent of Soviet-era brutalism than it alludes to the academic weight of Ireland’s oldest and most-renowned university above ground.
Kappeler’s photographs are displayed in Gallery 2, a room further back behind the main space. Darkened Days is a series of black and white photographs, perhaps located within the genre of ‘street photography’, taken in Dublin with a square format Diana camera during a four-day period, as the captions matter-of-factly reveal. Kappeler mostly concentrated on photographing people: girls dressed up for a night out, a couple of brave swimmers half-submerged in the water of the Irish Sea at Sandycove, or a child running on the lawn of the Botanical Garden. Apart from being photographed in the same city (Dublin) over the same period of time (four days in October 2011), it is very hard to discern what these images actually have in common. Neither is it clear how they relate to the title of the series Darkened Days. The viewer shall be forgiven for feeling confused about the intended meaning of these photographs.
Similar to the Lomo camera, the Diana is essentially a toy camera which creates images with out-of-focus borders and an overall nostalgic appearance. Indeed, it is the same type of effect that the extremely popular Instagram application creates on smartphones. Yet these are technical details that do not necessarily help in understanding the photographs and their relationship to each other. What do the photographs mean? What do they seek to communicate? What is the artist’s agenda? For the time being, the viewer needs to be satisfied with the banal knowledge that the artist photographed a place in time.
Perhaps the images are meant to be confusing. One could argue that the psychological state of confusion and lack of direction in the photographs relates to the sudden downfall of the Celtic Tiger. The title Darkened Days could be a representation of the gloomy outlook of the Irish economy. The soft focus of the Diana camera could allude to the slightly skewed perspective of an outsider observing Ireland’s social landscape. The black and white images could reference a city steeped in history. Even the square format could be an ironic reference to the increased disequilibrium between the have and the have-nots. Yet any of these interpretations would not be an accurate representation of a series of photographs that appear to be conceptually ungrounded.
Born in 1952, and with a photographic archive that dates back to 1964, Kappeler is best-known for her eclectic and experimental approach to photography: alpine landscapes photographed with an infrared film, washed out Polaroids of nudes, or portraits displayed as colour negatives. In her work Kappeler tests the boundaries of photography. The relationship between child and adulthood, as well as the clash between nature and culture appear to be reoccurring motifs in her previous works. Yet in the absence of a clear motif in Darkened Days, an appreciation of the photographs on display is obscured by an arduous search for meaning.