The Wooden Photograph

Wooden Photograph

Is the essence of the photographic image not preservation? A moment that can be held forever in its crystallized state, monumentalized just through its existence? Could I push the read of image-as-monument, as say, an heirloom, if I forced the “object”-nature of an image to become more imposing than its “window”-characteristic (that illusion of a clear view into historic reality)? These are some of the questions that drove me to translate my photographs from digital images to wooden versions of themselves, less than ¼ inch into the realm of three-dimensions.

The project “Asha Means Life” culminated in the birth of her fourth child, Xolani (meaning – peace) in July 2012. After this moment, I exchanged the role of observer for that of storyteller. The task at hand was the synthesis of the hundreds of images created throughout the year of shooting, with memories of the family and my most striking impressions of Asha’s life. Asha the creator – dancer, mother, poet, lover, caregiver, singer, writer, choreographer – urging fragile blooms through rusted days and fluorescent nights.


A music box – the tiny ballerina performing endless pirouettes to the same song, whenever chance released her from the protective (or imprisoning) box of her life – was my inspiration for the construction of wooden boxes upon which the story could be inscribed. I ended up building boxes with the wooden photographs I milled out of white oak, from scenes of Asha’s life. A series of nested boxes was created, each one dedicated to a layer of Asha’s experience; each one lifting to reveal a bit more of the story.

To reference the photographic origin of the final object, as well as the exquisite, personal nature of a box that could be an heirloom, I fitted miniature images printed on fine silk into the inside of each box. Here the curious viewer could make yet another discovery about the family, and about the story etched in textures on its exterior.

The creation of the boxes was a complex and involved process that included as much planning as building.

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The lifting of each box would bring the viewer one step closer to “meeting” Asha and hearing her tell her story in her own words, in the video housed in the lid of the innermost box of the series.

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