- Wouter Van de Voorde: Death is not here. Void/Perimeter Books. $105.
Students of theology, medical practitioners, poets - all have reflected for centuries on the nature of death. Is it "good" or "bad"?
A famous death poem often spoken at funerals, Death is nothing at all (Henry Scott-Holland), includes these words "It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened."
Death is not here, a new photobook by Canberra's Wouter Van de Voorde, is a photographic reflection on the topic.
It is, as other commentators have suggested, a mysterious book. It contains no words (in the traditional sense) other than a page of credits and minimal background - itself slightly intriguingly referring to the book as "This is not death."
The book's 160 pages are primarily filled with photographs, but also some delightful sketches of fossils. All images and drawings are by the author. Readers - yes, we are reading when we look at photos - are challenged to understand the author's story for themselves.
The subjects include ravens, dug holes, lumps of clay, rings of fire, curtains, a mother and newborn ... But the subjects, per se, are not the story.
Or, perhaps, create their own stories about life and death from those images.
The subjects include ravens, dug holes, lumps of clay, rings of fire, curtains, a mother and newborn, sculpted pieces, an egg, and dead or dying animals and plants.
But the subjects, per se, are not the story. Readers need to take up the challenge to explore and interpret what the images reveal.
In some ways, many photographs are so distinct it is difficult to see how they belong together. Every so often there is a blank page. These implored me to stop a while, think about what I have read, review the material already seen before moving on.
Some images may generate feelings of anxiety or be difficult to appreciate in the context of the whole story. Or you may simply not like them.
At the time of taking the photos, the author was about to become a father for the second time. He had been making still lifes with fossils. When his son wanted to play a real-life version of video game Minecraft, they began digging in their backyard. The hole grew deeper and wider. He began experimenting - drawing the outlines of holes with flames. Unearthing the grave of a chicken, bones visible, they harvested clay and used it to fire small objects, including a skull.
Images of empty backyard spaces are interspersed with others of the artist's son in an eroded gorge.
The philosopher Epicurus famously asserted that death should not be feared. His argument has been summarised. When we die, we no longer exist and can feel neither pain nor pleasure.
Therefore, there is nothing to fear in death, as death literally is nothing. Or, if you prefer - Don't worry, as long as we're alive, Death is not here!
But isn't death everywhere? In Ukraine and other battlefields, in various Californian shootings recently, on our roads regularly when vehicles crash, sometimes in hospital operating theatres, in the funeral notices pages. The nature of death is highly variable. Despite Epicurus, many do fear it.