Rick Morris Pushinsky
London based photographer Rick Pushinsky’s ‘Songs Of Innocence and of Experience: A Study Guide’ which launched this month at The Photographers’ Gallery. The edition is a visual response to William Blake’s 1789 illustrated collection of poems, using photographs interwoven with fragments of text from Francis Gilbert’s study guide to build a vision of the world seen through the prism of Blake’s imagination.
Scenes from everyday life, staged portraits, still lives, and landscapes are all presented within a square format in a muted, pastel palette, each image taking a poem’s central concept as its starting point. The images aim to echo and contemporise Blake’s use of the physical as metaphor for the metaphysical.
There is perhaps a parallel between the camera’s ability to transform its subject, and Blake’s belief in the transformative power of the imagination. In reference to Ah! Sunflower, part of a triptych of poems on relationships and sex, one image shows a toy rocket ignited yet simultaneously fixed to the ground. This image cheekily suggests the sexual and emotional tensions that we encounter in these three poems. Particularly it evokes the sense in Ah! Sunflower that youths are in a constant quest for what psychoanalyst and philosopher Jacques Lacan calls “alterity” or “otherness”; a fantasy of sexual perfection which does not exist. Taken together these poems illustrate Blake’s idea that relationships are destroyed neither by sex, nor desire, but rather by the repression of them, as it is this that leads people to the daydreams and fantasies that might destroy their relationships in the real world.
‘Innocence’ and ‘Experience’ are definitions of consciousness that rethink Milton’s existential-mythic states of ‘Paradise’ and the ‘Fall’. Blake’s categories are modes of perception that tend to coordinate with a chronology that would become standard in Romanticism: childhood as a state of protected innocence rather than original sin, but not immune to the fallen world and its institutions. This world sometimes impinges on childhood itself, and in any event becomes known through ‘experience’, a state of being marked by the loss of childhood vitality, by fear and inhibition, by social and political corruption, and by the manifold oppression of church, state, and the ruling classes.