If you go down to the woods today.....
When I was a child I (like many no doubt) I recall this rhyme being sung to me by voices with sunny dispositions and a happy lilting rhythm. However, that was a long time ago and with the passing of years, shadows as long as a winter's day are cast over once innocent childhood memories.
Over the last year or so I have encountered many books which have had their genesis in the heart of the worldwide lockdown. Some are very literal responses and have documented the very real reactions to the daily situations that have affected us all. Others have been far more oblique, relating the artist’s intensely personal and abstract journeys through which some have elected to lead us.
Australian photographer Morganna Magee lives on the outskirts of Melbourne and her mesmerizing new book Extraordinary Experiences is a dreamlike stream of consciousness born in the atmosphere of claustrophobic paranoia that gripped the world in 2020 as the global pandemic took hold. The lush Australian landscape that kisses the edge of the city has an almost European feel to it, thanks to the area's more temperate climate. My experience when traveling through it was to be surprised and comforted by both the familiarity and similarity to a rural drive through the English countryside, just the occasional tropical plant and blackened tree stump reminding me that I was indeed a very long way from home.
By presenting her surroundings in a subdude monochrome wash, Magee has created a narrative that banishes any idea of teddy bears and picnics to the umbras and impenetrable peripheries of our subconscious. This is not the world of Hans Christian Andersen, rather the ominous foreboding cautionary domain of the Brothers Grimm.
As Magee explains
"There are a set of psychological phenomena that can happen to the bereaved, loosely named Extraordinary Experiences. One of them is a visual apparition of or "seeing" the loved one. This work allows me to make tangible those feelings, the apparitions of emotions, memories, and dreams embed grief into the photographs."
As we pick our way along Magee’s pathway through the book, an air of melancholy hangs thickly over the proceedings. Landscapes are rendered mystical, ethereal in their representation.
Blurs and flares - distractions and imperfections - each made beautiful, necessary even, an integral component of the dialogue.
Every step provides reminders of mortality and the inevitability of life's cycle. from birth to death and beyond.
Portraits of children muted and sombre are interspersed with details of men's faces, tight lipped and wide eyed,
If you go down to the woods today.
Of course, there is balance. Paths are for journeys to be taken and through trees there is just as likely to be light as shade. Sunshine and warmth to balance the chill of the darkness.
A horse incandescent, luminous is photographed with the reverence of a unicorn, whilst in the pages surrounding it moonbeams and fireflies - either literal or suggested - dance and hover.
The reaction to the cultural shift brought about by the pandemic has been nothing short of seismic. Lives have been turned upside down, loved ones have been snatched away, some quickly, others ebbing away slowly. Many deprived of the opportunity to make their peace and feel the comforting touch and familiar voices of friends or family as time wound down and their own fireflies and unicorns appeared behind the veil of closed eyes to guide them down paths to hopefully a brighter landscape.
Whatever happens after the electric fireflies that dance on the mechanical Gods of a hospital ventilator dim and the angels in masks that fight to keep us in this world, dissolve from sight, to be replaced by silence and isolation, no one knows for sure.
But what if visions and pathways akin to those of Magee's imagination are indeed what await to guide us onward.
I suppose each of us will just have to wait and see, but that would truly be an extraordinary experience.
Extraordinary Experiences is a stitched softcover, beautifully printed on uncoated stock in a standard edition of two hundred copies, with a special edition also available.
To order and find details of international stockists contact