All photos © Ken Schles.
Ken Schles’s fourth monograph Oculus (published in the Netherlands by Noorderlicht), considers the nature of images in various guises: Images in memory and the use of the image as a construct to define our personhood or to define our world, as well as the image on the printed page. Oculus looks at the image as it functions as a metaphor in all its forms. But the investigations we see here are not idle or abstract. The root of this exploration, what gave birth to and sustained these inquiries, was a deeply personal (and somewhat troubling) set of circumstances. Inspired by the opening lines of Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak, Memory (“The cradle rocks above an abyss, but common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”), Schles made these images of sleeping children and compared them to a kind of somnambulism he was experiencing. He explains, “…the world, as I once knew it, had unraveled. I still acted as if things were as they had been. I was the sleepwalker moving through the bedrooms of these still and silent children, all tucked in their beds. Eventually, I came to realize that seeing is, in many ways, only ‘believing.’”
Perhaps it is because of this inescapable truth that we hold on as best we can to our effervescent memories—memories filled with spaces of light and dark—and full of mutating images. But wherever our fortunes reside we must ultimately negotiate our lives between ignorance and knowledge, between incoherence and significance, between, as Nabokov wrote, our “two eternities of darkness.” Schles will be signing books at the International Center of Photography in New York City on Thursday, December 15th from 6:30 to 7:30.