Photography, and photobooks, at their best, often find a delicate sense of balance between heaviness and lightness, juggling the two in a way that reflects our shared humanity. The same heaviness and lightness that exists in our day to day domestic and internal lives is often that which photography seeks to enshrine, expose, or embellish.
In Raymond Meeks’ latest monograph, ciprian honey cathedral, the photographs flitter between heavy and light, gradually arriving at a cohesion and unity that is not seen initially, like slowly opening a window and unveiling the first light of day into a dark room. The shifting between heaviness and lightness, both in the visual tones of the photographs and the mood that they convey, continues throughout the book as the images dance subtly back and forth from tender and fragile to bleak and ominous. Meeks achieves this balancing act in part by including both black and white and color images, although the majority are monochrome and there is no exact split in terms of thematic mood or tonality between the two types of images.
The moments when we lie asleep, on the edge of waking consciousness, are some of the lightest and most tender repeating occurrences that a couple can have
Before indulging in any of the book’s textured and sumptuous pages, the viewer must first be a reader. Meeks pens a text collage wrapping from the front cover to the top of the back cover, inspired by Nick Cave’s Rings of Saturn. The choice to implement a long poem as the first thing the viewer experiences is risky, and it is perhaps up to the individual viewer whether this choice plays out successfully or not. At least for any of us who dreaded the “Introduction to Poetry” course in university that forced the likes of Keats and Donne down our throats, this text collage can initially come off as abstruse and heavy-handed, a perhaps unnecessary and even slightly pretentious way to begin a collection of photographs.
The first handful of images in the sequence are simple, close compositions of Meeks’ partner Adrianna Ault, herself a photographer, asleep in soft early morning light. One’s immediate perception of the work is that of a light and tender domestic document. Moving further into the work, the images start to split off into two distinct groups: photographs of Ault, usually (but not always) supine and asleep on one hand, and on the other, landscape, topographical, and detailed still life photographs of what is ostensibly the couple’s house and its surrounding area.
The moments when we lie asleep, on the edge of waking consciousness, are some of the lightest and most tender repeating occurrences that a couple can have, or share, lingering in that space where one might watch the other sleep, gazing at a person who is not you, but nevertheless is an integral part of you. By repeating these moments in static photographic spaces carved out on the pages, Meeks highlights their dual nature: both ordinary and banal, yet somehow sublime.
“Piles of rocks, marks on drywall, a tarp laid out in the yard, a stack of dishes. These scenes display a work in progress, and a sense of foreboding and even despair…”
However, echoing the pendulum that is human life and day to day existence, one can never indulge in these pockets of lightness for too long. The soft and tender moments of lying half-asleep, half-awake in golden morning light inevitably give way to darker, messier, and more uncertain moments. Meeks gradually intertwines images of a house laid bare, mirroring the images of Ault’s bare body. Whether the house is in a state of construction or destruction, it is hard to tell. Piles of rocks, marks on drywall, a tarp laid out in the yard, a stack of dishes. These scenes display a work in progress, and a sense of foreboding and even despair, the exact opposite of those early morning moments next to one’s lover. The images gradually reveal themselves to be part of a much weightier theme. Rather than being read wholly as a tender, fragile rumination on love and domestic life, the work is more emotionally resonant when that sentiment is taken in tandem with darker concepts like death, disconnect, separation and loss.
The most successful layouts are those that pair images of Ault’s sleeping body, unwittingly mimicking the state of death, with images of the house in states of repair and/or disrepair, the constant state of flux of the house itself juxtaposed against the haunting stillness of her body. Through these pairings, the viewer starts to pose the heavier questions that lie at the heart of this body of work. In the sense that a house, a man-made thing built to serve a specific purpose, will most likely outlive the person who built it, we are left asking ourselves: What remains after death? What is a home? Is it a house, a person? Is it a feeling, or a state of mind? How does love, the pinnacle of human emotive life, survive beyond death?
In these pictures, Meeks offers no answers. Instead, he simply poses the same questions again and again, repeating the same pattern that we ourselves repeat every day, from waking into the lightness of each morning to the heaviness that we inevitably face in the darkness of night.