Review by Gerhard Clausing •
The word vale can have a number of meanings. It can imply a farewell, a letting go of things that perhaps are unattainable or forever lost. Or, it can be a valley, a hidden place between hills or mountains that may not be so easy to get to or to find. I think Robert Darch’s title for this photobook most likely implies all of these shades of meaning, and more. It is a tribute to the searching that all youths go through, and some continue to pursue across a lifetime.
Darch had a setback early in his life, a mild stroke that set some boundaries on his physical activities and full participation in the customary life of someone in his 20s. This is a book that presents a look back at what might have been, but was perhaps not possible. Don’t we all at times review some moments from days gone by that might have presented opportunities that we did not follow up on, whether the barrier was physical, emotional, or both?
The images in this small but powerful book have a mysteriously strong effect on the viewer. We see country landscapes and locations with mostly solitary males and females, but the negative spaces are often larger than the figures depicted. The individuals are shown mostly by themselves, in solitary moments, and only occasionally with someone else. We do have the distinct feeling that the individuals are lonely and not particularly pleased with that situation.
There is a dreamlike, uncertain feeling that is pervasive; somewhat eerie landscapes are at times interrupted by ladders leading to nowhere, or bridges on the verge of disintegration. The powerful portraits are environmentally purposed and well sequenced. The characters have indecisive facial expressions, and we almost see them on the verge of taking the next step in their lives. This presentation seems to mirror the fictional world that was Darch’s retreat during that difficult period of his life, “characteristics which were at once benign and threatening,” as Dan Cox puts it in his insightful afterword.
We are impressed by the consistent atmosphere and mood this book projects – a challenging sequence that very effectively draws us into Darch’s mysteries. Perhaps we also get the idea that solitary moments can also be worthwhile in and of themselves. You want to call out to these youngsters to enjoy the moment, and look around a bit: the answer may be just around the corner, or in the next clearing – look ahead to what can come next. When all is said and done, life may not turn out to be such a vale of tears after all.
Robert Darch – Vale
Photographer: Robert Darch (born in Birmingham; lives in Devon, England)
Self-published (Lido Books); © 2020
Essay: Dan Cox
Hardback, illustrated, silver-foil-stamped, sewn; 64 pages, unpaginated, with 36 color images; 17.5 x 23 cm (7 x 9 inches); printed and bound in Wales by Gomer Press; ISBN 978-1-8382195-0-5
Cover Illustration: Anna Skeels
Cover Design: Nia Gould
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