I often hear the future of photography being debated around me. The public discourse can be soul-crushing, and as a bookseller, the idea that printed photography collections are seperately an endangered species is enough to make me want to swallow poison.
A Beautiful Hesitation gives me hope. As a collection, its dedication to Pardington’s photographic work is pure and resolute. But while the visual documentation of her photography is well-presented and a testament to the value of print design itself, the depth of this collection isn’t only in her oeuvre, but in the strong analyses of her work and her relevance to our national culture.
Pardington’s work is offered primarily without comment, the only context being segmented collections, in the latter 70% or so of the book. The front is weighted with an accumulation of essays about her work, some newly commissioned, with archive texts and an interview with the artist. Through the textual contributions, the only consistency is a profound respect for the artist and her work. This is a beautiful thing.
Aaron Lister’s essay Love Never Faileth: The Shape of a Practice offers, essentially, an overview of her work, necessary because the collection spans 30 years and does include photographs that have never been published before. It also provides context for the specificity of subsequent essays, and is sharply followed by Hana O’Regan’s Taku Hokika ki te kāika / My Journey Home, published here in adjacent bilingual columns. O’Regan uses minimal personal context and her links to Kāi Tahu to explain her own efforts to pull apart the threads of identity in Pardington’s images. This is paramount to understanding the entire semiotic spectrum in Pardington’s work, yet still only approaches one element of her body of work.
For example, Pardington’s ‘erotic’ works are seperately considered in Susan Best’s essay Fiona Pardington’s Photography: Life, Love, Libido. But the idea of eroticism in her imagery is carefully considered again in relation to identity, and more potently in relation to portraiture. Best’s analysis of Pardington’s gut-punch nudes and the essence of her subjects’ partially concealed self portrayal opens up questions of the psychology of Pardington’s ethos. This is later fuelled and explored in further/separate detail by Kriselle Baker’s essay Venus Flow: Psychic and Somatic Pain in the Work of Fiona Pardington, which drives home the tangibility of these works, and also illuminates Pardington’s culpability in the physical side of her captured compositions.
With eight essays, the following archive texts, and the loving focus on Pardington’s work itself, the value of this work is clear. Additionally, the quality of this publication – a large-format hardback book – reflects the quality of the work inside. The weight of the case, bound beautifully with her rose-heavy iconic still life, is wrapped in a nightmareish adaption of ‘Katarina Rimu Rapa’ with gold and white text and a gold patterned overlay on the spine of the book. A Beautiful Hesitation is well worth the comparably kind $70.00 you’ll pay for it, and is a wholly necessary addition to any collection of art books. It has the value and worth is a single tome that I think will foster inspiration and much deserved praise in years to come.
Reviewed by Matt Bialostocki
Fiona Pardington: a Beautiful Hesitation
by Kriselle Baker and Aaron Lister
Published by Victoria University Press in conjunction with City Gallery Wellington and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki