Odette England's Thrice Upon a Time, Empathy, and Worrying

I first came upon Odette England’s series, Thrice Upon a Time at the Museum of Contemporary Photography exhibition Of Walking. I was immediately drawn to her images, which were large and lacerated, depicting the landscape of her family farm. Each photograph, printed full frame, was scratched or punctured, while some were so damaged that the image was entirely indistinguishable. Others were stitched back together, creating the appearance of a wounded field, or perhaps a root reaching towards the surface.

England is from South Australia where she was raised on the farm until 1989 when she and her family were forced off the land. These images were taken in 2005 and then given to her parents in 2010 when they were asked to walk the farm grounds with the developed negatives upon their feet. Unable to work the grounds herself, England crafted the images through her parents to create a sense of longing, of a lost “idealized vision of home” and of “an inheritance [she aches] for.”

Though, while looking at these images I began to think of her parents, of their willingness to return on behalf of their daughter; of their empathy towards her and the land, and of the beautiful heirloom that now sits quietly only to be disturbed by a wandering emulsion. Empathy means to travel out of your own self and to recognize the reality of another. The word empathy is still a blossoming one, having only been invented in 1909. The root word is path, from the Greek word for passion or suffering, but is also constructed from the Old English path, as in a journey one travels. England has empathy for her childhood home and for the trails her parents meander, while she endures the ruin of a sanctuary, one that she longingly tries to put back together.

It is almost as though the photographer is yearning for a past; and something that was, in a way, taken from her has caused the images to disintegrate. Sometimes our desire for a place or object can become consuming and destructive; yet to pine over something means to love it with intensity. An early form of the word worry meant to tear or mangle until it’s meaning became a vicious but successful outcome of pursuing an object of desire. While worrying used to be an external act, it slowly became an internal one, a state of mind. In this case, Odette England’s work embodies the former; her images are torn and mangled, disfigured with passion as she remembers a place once whole, without worry.