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Ken Schles started this project when both of his parents were suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, their memories fading, and his wife was gravely ill. He turned to photography, which fails in its memorial vocation and demonstrates the shortcomings of perception. “Images are phantoms,” writes Schles. “In death our memories and their associated images are lost along with the significance they may once have held.”

The writer Vladimir Nabokov put it a different way: “Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” Schles takes the metaphor of a photographic account and fastens on the idea of representing the imperceptible ray that is existence. First he finds it one night by the shore. The sea foam irradiates the choppy surface, and rolling waves break into glimmers, forming electrical currents in the abyssal black of the sky and ocean. 

The moon does not appear in the image. Nor is it involved in the photographic process. A flash lights the foamy waves at the moment when land and sea meet. But it looms above the photographer on these shores as certainly as it watches over these sleeping children, collapsed on their pillows like waves collapsing on themselves, their dangling hands ready to seal the photographer’s pact with memory. “The future is left open for the future to answer,” writes Schles in the last line of the personal notes that appear at end of this 2012 book.

A raven spreads its wings wide enough to form, in a bare tree, the cut-away circle of a waxing moon, circular like a camera lens, like the opening after which the book is named, like the the third eye, often blind, of memory, that of the Greek titan Mnemosyne. Like poetry written in a luminous torpor, Oculus is a reflection on the ambiguity for memory to have amnesia, for life to have death and the feeling of feeling nothing. “Seeing is not knowing,” Schles warns. Vision is only perception when it is stimulated by the experience, which is impregnable.

Ken Schles : Oculus
Until July 12 2014
Niebuhrstr. 78
D-10629 Berlin

Tel: +49-30-847 20 291

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Ken Schles

Brooklyn, New York. 1960. Ken Schles is the author of Invisible City (1988; reprint 2014), The Geometry of Innocence (2001), A New History of Photography: The World Outside and the Pictures In Our Heads (2007), Oculus (2011) and Night Walk...

Invisible City/Night Walk (1983-1989) by Ken Schles

Night Walk, by Ken Schles is dedicated "to the memory of those who died in the scourge of AIDS and violence that gripped the East Village during the late 1980s". Compiled more than 25 years after the ravages, this work is the counterpart to Invisible City, a dark book published b...