Not all days have nights
Not all blades have knives
On Melanie Stidolph’s Endless Reproduction
There are encounters whose precision belongs to a time with no beginning and no end. A time that stands still, an entity so immense and profound that it is out of our limited comprehension to grasp. Like tadpoles in a pond, we swim in its warm moisture without realizing that we are nourished and even made possible by it.
These encounters occur every day, methodically, periodically. They smell like ever-green miracles and shine like drops of infinity; they are everywhere around and inside us, yet we scarcely notice them. It requires a refined sensitivity to catch a glimpse of them, a willingness to look not with our eyes only; and even so, they are hard to define.
I look at Melanie Stidolph’s images with wonderment, because it seems like she manages to photograph the unphotographable. I am not referring to the materiality of the physical phenomena she encapsulates with a click: the sudden tilt of a bird’s head, the urgency of objects propelled into flying or falling under the dictatorship of the force of gravity. I am rather talking about a certain grace, as Simone Weill put it, which is almost as rare and volatile as the void itself.
“Grace fills empty spaces,” Weil wrote, “but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void”. I can’t tell if it is my becoming a mother that has created the vacuum and opened the crack through which I can see what Melanie sees. I have in any case speculated that what didn’t happen for her and recently happened to me have the same disruptive charge which is needed to make space for something else than one’s self.
To take a step back – or maybe, more precisely, a step aside – is not the quality primarily praised in a photographer. The successful photographer’s hand is quick, firm and conclusive; a martial attitude embedded in the same verbs bearing the photographic action (shoot, catch, frame, freeze). Melanie’s hand, instead, is tentative, indulgent and recurrent. If there’s a trace of fight in her images, it’s an internal and solitary one – a hunt with no trophies to hang on the wall. The decisive moment is silenced by the comprehension of its absence.
A whole system is built, here, and is then allowed to live its life, with no expectations of what it might return. Enabling it with complete acceptance is the closest I can think of to the ideal of creation. Melanie’s work unfolds on many levels, and she makes no mystery that the deepest of them is incredibly private and painful. At the same time, it opens a door into an expanded selfless state leading towards the enjoyment of those murmuring encounters which would otherwise go unheard – and it’s really up to us whether we want to join her or not. Once we assent, we are made part of a looping fight whose burden she had to carry and whose reward she chose to share.