The Death of a Beautiful Subject is a multidisciplinary project by artist Sophy Rickett, which takes as its starting point a series of butterfly photographs taken by the artist’s father. As in previous projects, Rickett examines issues around collaboration and ownership, and encounters between humans, each other, and the natural world. Quiet and poignant and beautiful, this is her most autobiographical work to date.
The Death of a Beautiful Subject will be published by GOST in November 2015. A special collectors edition, which includes a limited edition print, is available for purchase now.
Below is a short extract from Rickett’s text with a selection of images.
My dad had a camera, and I can still see the barrel of it resting on the varnished surface of the mahogany drinks cabinet, next to the door in the sitting room. The lens was heavy, a Ground Lens, said proudly, it being ‘ground’ signifying some sort of extra specialness. It made me think of the ground, the earth. Not the Earth, but the earth outside in the garden, big heavy clods of red soil that my dad would spend weekends digging, and one day after lunch I would bury a dead gerbil in an ornamental pot and some time later, on spilling the contents of the pot out on to the grass, would see, just for a second, the soft, almost moist, absolutely brilliant white fragments of gleaming bone crumbling back into the soil almost as soon as they were unearthed.
Somewhere, there is a picture of my dad taken with that same camera. He’s smiling, sitting in his customary position, ankles crossed, knees apart, and elbows resting on them, a position that seemed to take up so much space. It is the first picture of him that I have ever taken and I grip the tool, its centre of gravity all askew, just a little too tight. My nose is pressed up against it and the whole back of it starts to moisten up with my breath. I stare forward and there he is in the distance of the viewfinder. My other eye is also open so while I see this miniature version of him with one eye, I see darkness with the other and my eyelashes tickle against the black casing of the camera as I blink, because I have not yet learned how to close one eye and keep the other open.
I’m with my uncle and I am making a sound recording of him talking about how they would go hunting for butterflies. He describes how the butterflies would be killed with chloroform and then pinned out on a setting table.
Where is the collection now?
Well, those butterflies would decay. Insects would get in and destroy them. They just didn’t last forever.
We are sitting under the reach of a huge dark tree. It sways above us slowly, under lit by the spill of light from the kitchen window but apart from that it’s night and we are in the dark. The gusts of wind get stronger; distortions in the microphone make me feel tense. I keep needing to start again. My brother sits with us, and as is often the case I have no idea what he’s thinking. So we are sitting there with the giant mass of this tree overhead, rustling into the microphone and my uncle telling the same fragment of story again and again and the more he says it, the more stilted it becomes, but I keep asking him to repeat it. And then he says, ‘and now of course it’s the photography. He takes pictures of them’.
I thought about the pictures, imagined him making them, his camera poised, inches from his subject. I wanted to see them, already thinking of them as something that would belong to me, as something I would make my own.
The Death of a Beautiful Subject (1) / Silver Y
The Death of a Beautiful Subject (4) / Magpie moth
The Death of a Beautiful Subject (12) / Brown Argus
The Death of a Beautiful Subject (2) / Grizzled skippers
The Death of a Beautiful Subject (24) / Jersey tiger settled on the window
Buy the special collectors edition of The Death of a Beautiful Subject via GOST.
Read our review of Sophy Rickett – Objects in the Field at Camilla Grimaldi gallery, London, 2014.