Aletheia Casey is an Australian photographic artist based between Sydney and London. Using historical findings as a background to her stories, Aletheia’s work largely addresses identity, place and belonging.
What was your initial pull towards photography? And what place does film specifically hold in your practice?
I was studying ceramics and drawing when I was 14 at TAFE, and a photographer came in to photograph our final pieces of ceramics - I helped him with the lights and to set up the work, and as soon as he started to photograph the work I realised that I was far more interested in photographing the ceramics, than I was in the creating the actual ceramics themselves. It was a pivotal point in my life. From there I went on to study an undergraduate in Graphic Design and minored in photography, although deep down, I knew I was a photographer, not a designer, but photography wasn’t offered as a major at my university. I spent all of my time photographing though, or in the darkroom, and hours bothering my photography lecturer. It was a magical time really. From that time I’ve never doubted that all I wanted to do with my life was to photograph and make images.
I’ve always used film in my practice. When I started photographing, digital cameras were only just being introduced into the world and the quality wasn’t great, so it seemed obvious that I would continue to photograph with film. I love the permanency of film, the materiality of it, the texture and grain, and the element of chance. I love the chemical magic of it, the unknown mystery of film. These days I also enjoy the physicality of film, and I work a lot with scratching and painting onto the surface of the film, which wouldn’t be possible with a digital image.
I also enjoy the slow and almost meditative process of photographing with film and having to wait to see the result. There is a precious quality to this type of patience. This time element (and being forced to wait to see an image) is also an interesting component of using film for me. As photography is such a time based art, and by that I mean that it is one which is focused on the freezing of time, or the capturing of time, and so being forced to also spend time waiting, to slow down and really spend time considering each image is quite important for me in the overall process. The precious quality of film is also important - because I only allow myself a few frames per scene or subject, I am forced to really look, to really feel the moment, and to really be in the moment.
When developing a project, what comes first for you, a specific image, or the concept? Can you talk a little on your current project?
I work in two different ways generally. For my previous projects, which were based in Australia, I had a specific concept, and used that as a starting point. I had a specific idea, based on many months of research, which I wanted to communicate, however I never visualize how my projects will come to fruition. Image making for me is always a very intuitive process, and it happens fluidly. I respond to the environment in a very emotional way, and I also work with people this way as well.
I’m currently working on several different projects (which is usually the case). My current projects, which I’m working on in London, are a very intuitive response to my current life situation, and also the Coronavirus pandemic. Rather than photographing what was in the outside world, I’ve started to work through my archive, and have ripped, painted and tore my negatives for both of these bodies of work. I found respite from the anxiety of the situation by making this photographic work. I cut into my negatives, damaging and distorting them; overlaying my own emotions onto the images. I manipulated and disfigured the photographs to reflect the way in which the future now seems distorted and dark with shadows. The work is about being disconnected, and isolated from where I feel I belong, and my family.
You are a part of Lumina Collective, a group of female and non-binary photographic artists. What was the idea behind starting this type of collective?
Morganna Magee and I initially came up with the idea of starting this collective to provide a platform for voices in the photography world which traditionally hadn’t had the same exposure as others. The collective is also about support, friendship and inspiring each other. We have group exhibitions, are working on workshops, and collaborate on projects together. Overall, it’s about supporting each other’s strengths as photographers, sharing our photographic vision, and sharing the joy (and the frustrations) of photography with a group of wonderful people.
Your work explores Australia's traumatic colonial history, with an attempt to connect to people and stories. How important is historical truth telling in your work, and how is image making used as a tool for healing?
My work considers how Australia’s collective national identity has been influenced and informed by a manipulated version of history and examines the notion of ‘Dis-remembering’ throughout Australia’s colonial history. By recognising the trauma of our colonial past, the mistruths which we are told, and being open about our own involvement (and that of our forebears) in this history perhaps we can finally have a more cohesive understanding of the past, and therefor slowly make our way towards a different future….
My work considers the concept of generational culpability and my own sense of moral culpability. As Henry Reynolds says in his book The Forgotten War: “Do the descendants of pioneering generations inherit moral culpability for events that unfolded long before they were born?”
My own manipulation and distortion of the imagery is a part of my personal attempt at coming to terms with the history of the country which I know as home. The scratching, and painting of the imagery is my way of imprinting my own recognition of responsibility in this history within the images - leaving my own individual trace within the image and uncovering and revealing a more truthful version of history. Through scratching and physically manipulating the actual films, the photographs become a reflection of our distorted understanding of history.
To be seen, to be heard, for our pain to be understood and recognised, is perhaps one of the greatest healers of all. I aim to do this through my imagery. My work aims to connect people, through the stories of others, and by the acknowledgment and sharing of pain and grief, caused by an unjust history, it aims to work as a tool of healing. I make sense of the world through making images, and therefor it seems to me that the only way I can address the trauma of Australia’s colonial history is through the making of photographs. I only hope I do the subject justice.
I’ll end with a quote from John Berger, who says, in his book ‘Bento’s Sketchbook’:
“A sense of belonging to what-has-been and to the yet-to-come is what distinguishes man from other animals. Yet to face History is to face the tragic. Which is why many prefer to look away. To decide to engage oneself in History requires, even when the decision is a desperate one, hope.”
If you were gifting a film care package to a beginner photographer, what would you include in it?
I would give a nicely wrapped package of confidence, resilience, and perseverance, and a note which would read: “Photograph for yourself, no-one else. Believe in what you’re doing. Listen to your body when you photograph, and if it tells you that there is nothing that you would rather be doing with your life, then you have chosen the right path. Trust yourself and let your gut and your emotions guide you photographically. Be patient, be determined, and be kind to yourself, and others.”