As part of our ongoing series “Critics Choice,” author Anand Mahadevan writes about Bill Finger’s evocative piece 1973- age 12 (Ladder).
by Anand Mahadevan
All that remains of childhood are images; time weathers places, withers people and even in the safe vaults of our minds, memory acquires a sepia taint such that when a remembered image coalesces into shape it teeters between fact and fiction.
Looking at Bill Finger’s 2006 work 1973- age 12 ( Ladder), a childhood game comes into sharp relief in my mind. Stealing a ladder to slink down into a hole for a game of hide and seek. And in the memories of my past, the hole is deeper so that the warm cylinder of earth swallows me whole, reassuring with its smell of mud – petrichor – and lidded only by a pale disc of a blue sky, clouds streaming across it. Then in a moment of pure cinema, the game is forgotten, replaced by a sense of disbelief, an inward hoop of joy as the silhouette of a plane crosses high in the sky above flying to romantic places: Timbuktu. And for the duration of its traverse across my pie-sky, I feel the hand of destiny caress me.
Now as an adult, I marvel at the chance of it all, the disparate props coming together. To my jaded eyes, the hole appears a pit now, wide and shallow and if now I were to lie in it and look up would the plane move as slowly as I remembered or would it dart across the sky like an arrow intent on finding its target?
Every one of Bill Finger’s carefully crafted works casts us back into the Technicolor of our pasts. Each photograph sits in the liminal space between a child’s imagination and an adult’s memory. House places the crenellated castle of childhood at just the right distance, far enough so the taste of danger whets our lips as we explore the forest of creatures among the roots of grasses and shrubs and yet close enough to run to when the wanton gaze of flocculent clouds changes with darkening moods. The Devil’s Den provokes memories of scrapped knees and bums sore from sitting on jagged rocks of boyhood. How secret were our hiding places, the adult self looking at the photo asks of our memories? Mattress carries the stench of childhood shame, its wet betrayal and the bloom-like contours of dried piss-stains revealing our long and varied relationship with it. Is it because we dirty it through childhood that as sex burgeons, we press into its soft warmth and make it our first lover?
And if your adult-self cringes at the memories these photographs evoke, then I ask only that you look at these made up images with the relief that the sets that created them no longer exist. No more than the child who once bore your name. And in that sorrow, take comfort from the photographs that reveal to you again a life that once made magic from the barest of props.
See more work by Bill Finger.