A little girl standing in front of gloomed woods, her face etched away by light; an otherwise unremarkable field haunted by a delicate brume; the enchanting chaos of seedpods charmed still while falling; a child blurred limbless before a glowing, eye-white screen—the B&W photographs in Emil Handke’s series From Silence evoke an uneasy mystery, a shifting amalgam of innocence and menace. What they are, really, is uncanny, that itchy mix of the familiar and the utterly foreign.
All of the images were made after moonrise, in the thick dark of a Louisville night. But there end their similarities. What makes this series so engaging is the range, both tonally and narratively, that Handke squeezes out of his conceit. Some of the images were clearly made with simple long exposures, and these shots are full of a fragile but edgy beauty. Others, though, are a combination of long exposures, flash, and movement, both of the camera and the subject, often one of Handke’s daughters, childhood being a key theme of the series. These pictures are vertiginous, almost aggressively disorienting, and seem to gesture toward some primal fear, some inescapable violence we all suffer at the hands of time or one another.
One of the pleasures and challenges of From Silence is contending with these different moods, trying to reconcile them. Handke encourages us to think about the ways our own lives are shot through with wonder and anxiety, fear and peace. “I want people to give shape to the void,” he says. And it’s on account of his talent and vision that we’re able to shape it however we like.
Emil Handke published Prelude to Silence earlier this year. He is currently working on producing the larger work, From Silence, later this year. See more of his work at www.emilhandke.com.