The Past by Ruth Rosengarten

Walk with me in any city or along a rutted path, and you’ll notice that often, I’m not scanning the horizon, but looking downward, my gaze just ahead of my footfall.  In the countryside where I live, walking daily on roads and fields, abject maps spread out from my feet; an animal mortuary, a painting of frost or mud, a museum of discarded, trampled, lost things.

Sometimes, when I’m in the collecting frame of mind, I photograph what I see under and around my feet. A tyre-flattened rabbit, its glistening viscera turned into a Jackson Pollock; the pale blue half shell of a tiny egg; a wind-tossed plastic bag; a small pile of sticks; a child’s unpaired sandal in a bed of autumn leaves and pine needles; a blister of pills that someone might miss; the torn half of a crumpled letter. At home, there might be a sock curled up under a sofa, or one of my dog’s toys, sucked and chewed and shredded beyond recognition, a darling reminder of intense, content activity. And of course dust, showing up thick and velvety in sunlit corners, scudding into bunnies, or ready to take the imprint of a finger. Or scatter to your breath, should you be close enough: should you wish to photograph nothing more than a layer of dust.

For years, I have been obsessed with traces, with photographing them. In doing that, I am keeping a record of a record, since they themselves are evidence of something having happened, the past tense made concrete. And as traces are always on the point of erasure, for me they easily bear within them the seeds of loss, of grief. A paw-print on beach sand functions like an unfixed analogue photograph: an index of something that once was there.

Looking in the mirror too, still imagining sometimes that I’ll see the expectant face of a young woman, I find an archive of past moments: little commas etched around my mouth mimicking the particular way I smirk in photographs; the pouches under my eyes from years of poor sleep; lines scribbled by hilarity and wretchedness. And would that be the shadow of a bar code on my upper lip, from those few years when, pacing, I fancied a cigarette might help?