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Distress by Zara Carpenter


I first got to know about Zara Carpenter when (not that) Martin Amis from Photobook Store suggested that her husband, photographer Rikard Osterlund send me his book "Look I’m Wearing All The Colours". A beautiful volume which was a study of their life together, and Zara's ongoing struggle with the a debilitating medical condition which leaves the sufferer in pretty much constant pain.


Needless to say, I thought the book was a triumph, not only on the level of informing and raising awareness, but as a tender love letter and a portrait of unconditional support.



It soon became apparent that Zara was an artist in her own right, and in 2019 she released her own first book entitled Polaroids. From the outset she has fearlessly drawn from her personal trauma and experience, in a cathartic exploration of her own condition.


The rise of the handmade artist book, is another layer in the textural landscape that comprises the world of the photobook, and over the last decade or so its evolution has gathered apace, to the point where it now easily justifies a collecting genre in its own right.

To the many that are already out there, there is an infinite procession of others joining the parade on a daily basis, and they all endeavour to carry the sincerity and authenticity that has its genesis deep in the maker's psyche.

I certainly marvel at the ingenuity, textural dexterity and endless imagination that is poured into each of them. However, just as with any photobook, the work comes first, no matter how grand or humble.

To encounter a book where it's construction, indeed the materials employed to present it, and the paper that conveys its message, seamlessly blend and harmonise with the artist’s vision to the point where not a word of explanation is required.

That is euphoria, that is the rainbow's end.

And as lovely as they are, relatively few seem to have navigated that course.


Which leads us to Distress.




I am sorry to say that by the time you read this, Distress is likely to already be fully subscribed.

The work and the artist however, still deserves whatever attention I can garner on her behalf.


Distress is quite simply a mesmeric photographic essay that communicates the concept of one individual's pain and suffering more effectively than a million words ever could.

Please do not misunderstand, there is beauty here. In fact it is Carpenter's fragile construction and delicacy of touch that elevates it to the point where it truly deserves recognition as an art piece in its own right. The vulnerable pages bound by the lightest ot thread, and the box in which it is contained, stressed and scuffed, an original poem affixed to its lid.

Weathered, yes but with the precision, detail and love that typifies the whole piece.


Comprising a series of self portraits, Carpenter has used the experimental techniques that she revels in to astounding effect.

Film, polaroid and chemigram are all aspects of her vernacular and the resultant images have the ethereal nature of watercolour paint, whilst conveying its searing message like a sledgehammer wrapped in silk.




In her own words;

`Using different experimental techniques I attack the image surface, specifically targeting the parts of the body and mind causing discomfort. The methods used to damage the image are instinctive ways of self soothing - such as stroking/rubbing, cleaning, gardening, walking in the rain - used when in flare-up or to calm the mind. This hands-on process of making and reworking the same set of photographs over and over again is a cathartic release; exorcising the pain from me and into the work I create."




To this end, the prints were left outside in the elements. Drenched by rain covered in soil and even "nibbled by snails", the distress transferring organically to the work.

It can easily be seen from image to image that aspects of the face or body are either defaced or removed, an indication of where the pain was resident at the time of making.

Once the printing of each image had been completed the pages were then individually finished. Torn, ripped, pierced and scrunched up, rendering each copy truly unique.


"They are worn, torn, weathered, creased, dirty and tattered. They are fragile and in time may break".


As is the case for all of us.




Whether you will be able to physically acquire Distress or not, I implore you to take note and follow this beautiful spirit and fiercely inventive new talent, and if you are not too sure where to look, don't worry you'll find her.


Just follow the rainbow.




Distress is handmade in a signed, numbered and boxed edition of ten. It is available exclusively from Photobook Store









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