What kind of a fiction can you make from the assemblages of reality ? Brendan Hunt’s It, Phantasm is not quite reportage, documentary, fiction, or non-fiction. As someone prone to nighttime wanderings, I have great sympathy for the gumshoe flaneur searching for a story between all of these photographs. What I find is not a straightforward story, nor a mystery unfolding, but instead a long, meandering gaze into mythmaking. The stories, the pictures, all feel like a trance. They assemble into a dark lullaby bringing us to the liminal space between life and death. There is no heaven or hell, no sort of good or evil kind of ethics in these photographs. One of the final images, of guts on the ground, betrays that, ultimately, the myth is of life — there is no sort of judgment passed on the entrails. The unknown animal they once belonged to is part of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, as it seemingly became food for something larger, and unseen — the predatory beast lurking in the space beyond the borders of the photographs.
The story begins with someone old, in an old style. Much has been said about the death of the old white male and the increasing obsolescence of patriarchal power. With the birth of photography, Paul Delaroche famously (if potentially apocryphally) uttered, “Painting is dead !” And, of course, patriarchy (like painting) has yet to die, and whiteness, maleness still abounds as the dominant mode of power. It, Phantasm is as much about what is dead as what is alive, the photograph of the young boy appropriately book-ending the pictures contained within. So how does one get from the old mode, of the painterly or patriarchal, to the reborn, the new ?
There is a precision in all of these photographs. All but one have a similar tone; darkness pervades, muted earth tones, too. Colors are sometimes natural, or overwhelmingly artificial, the natural seem to hark backwards to old fears of humanity. That one photograph excepted, of a dentist’s chair bathed in heavenly, warm, welcoming natural light, is important because of its difference. If there’s a sickness afflicting the narrator, or the fictional maker of these photographs, he looks on to the diagnostic tool from behind a doorway (a kind of precipice) in a dark room, and from there the pictures don’t get brighter, or happier. They remain mired down in the dirty trenches of reality, and from there we see the guts, a dog bathed in strange sunset light, an oil slick, and finally that unhappy Santa-hat-clad child. While the narrator rejects his own salvation, he finds himself inseparable from the cycle or the larger forces surrounding him, and the story still ends with that rebirth, that continuation of life.
This is a project about the tension between the internal/external, the audience/creator, and the interpretation/reality. These photographs are of real things that existed in the world at a certain point, but even when examined individually, you can feel the interpretations being made. Especially with the choices of light, these photographs are unabashedly interpretational. None could be mistaken for a textbook illustration or a moment simply captioned. These moments, these things, existed (and were not created for the photograph) but in cutting them from the world and pushing them together, Hunt tries to expose the difficulty of pinning our internal state onto external things. He wants to ask, what multitudes can this one thing represent ? For him, and for each viewer, I think the answers will be different. This is not a project where one meaning is easily conceived, beyond the overarching themes and feelings.