Teresa Eng - Speaking of Scars
"‘Speaking of scars’ deals with trauma and memory. During a 3-year period, photography was used to process an experience that couldn’t be processed. In the book memory takes the form of images, as it repeats and reconfigures itself around new and existing experiences. Despite the fragile nature of the images, the book expresses its brutal subject in a delicate way as it explores the complexity of trauma. The details of banal life offer up a world where things once seemingly benign become menacing; yet beauty holds resonance.
‘Speaking of scars” is an expression of the unspeakable, taking inconceivable events and transforming them into a visible language."
- Teresa Eng
The layout of Speaking of Scars is unconventional for a photobook, throughout, images are laid on top of others, images are repeated, double exposures are simulated using tracing paper.
The themes and colours throughout the book are subtle and melancholic. The book begins with a self portrait, Eng's face here is covered by the image of a leather surface being visibly pressed by something, underneath this image the sitter sits awkwardly as she is half way through blinking. From here the book builds a gradual story of trauma and recovery through Eng's immediate environments. The majority of images are shot indoors, a reality of the agoraphobia that can often be a symptom of extreme trauma. Images from Eng's recovery are treated delicately through images of psychiatric chairs and hospital desks. The physical symptoms of the incident are only brought up in one image in the book, an image of Eng's bruised back, as with the first self portrait in the book, covered up by an image, this time a pink flower wrapped around a white curtain.
At the end of the book, the incident that triggered "Speaking of Scars" is revealed, giving a whole new context to the images within the book.
"I was in Calais, working on a photographic project about displaced migrants, when I was raped. In my traumatised state, my senses were overwhelmed as i attempted to process what happened. As I returned to daily life, the trauma manifested itself as flashbacks."
From this closing statement we can interpret that the repeated images and faded photographs are symbolic of the uncomfortable flashbacks Eng experienced whilst working on Speaking of Scars. At the end of the book is a list of titles for every image in the book, providing further anchorage to what is at first, a somewhat ambiguous set of images.
While the books brave and introspective ending brings an emotive end to Speaking of Scars, the books pastel aesthetic, subtle message and interactive layout make Speaking of Scars a book that can be looked over and analysed in many different ways. Overall the project manages to deliver a compelling story of the artist using the medium of photography to alter the way in which she sees herself and the world.
The books interactivity is something i may look into for the publication of my book, the interesting layouts and materials used makes the simple subject matter a more engaging visual experience.