Sam Kilcoyne who runs Augenblick Press and published this book is a collector of found photographs. That is, old weird photographs made by amateurs, often documenting a private world, or capturing an uncanny moment. He trawls flea markets, does house clearances and waits in arcane corners of the internet hoping to find this stuff. And he has an unerring eye. Predictably he is also steeped in underground music and deeply immersed in subcultural aesthetics. But unlike music collecting, the images he is amassing are all one-offs. There’s no discogs for this stuff, no tracklists, no editions, however limited It’s just the raw moment of discovery. Him and a discarded image. Frankly I’m jealous.
On to this book.
The moment the pictures collected here were discovered must have been glorious. An extensive archive of truly fascinating unnerving images all emerging from a suburban house clearance, unearthed by Sam at a flea market early one morning.
So much of the meaning of these photographs is mysterious. Who do they depict? Who took them? Where they ever shared? What did they mean to the person or people that made them?
They appear to date from the 1960s, and are mainly set in the same ordinary domestic interior. They document the all consuming and complex private world of a person who may or may not go by the name of Elaine. It’s clear there is an obsession with submersion, and with rubber. I’m not a student of this stuff, but these seem to come from a time before the codes of fetish aesthetics have been fixed. The figure that appears in these pictures isn’t dressed in skin-tight black latex, there are no motorcycle gang signifiers or BDSM dungeon tropes. As a result, these photos and I guess the sessions they document feel unmoored from any comfortable framing, or straightforward interpretation. There’s a kind of nightmarish frumpy glamour: belted trench coats, drag eyebrows, mannequin-faced masks, cheap wigs wet with bath water. There is a clear delight in the technicalities of underwater breathing apparatus, military diving equipment, straps and tubes, thick rubber and talc. There is also a strong atmosphere of secrecy and fantasy. There are no faces present, either a mask is worn or a face cut from a magazine is pasted on after printing. Is it all the same person? Is there even a human body under that rubber?
There’s more questions than answers I guess. But taken as a whole, and this book is the complete archive, it’s a fascinating document. A brilliant example of the suburban weird. A rich visual compendium of proto-punk, proto-industrial aesthetics. And most of all it’s a testament to the creation of a private mythology and the importance of making your deep dreams reality even if it’s only in the privacy of your own bathroom.
A heady totemic publication then, a totally unique thing. And how often can we say something like that surfaces these days?
Book fair tomorrow anyone?
1st edition of 150.
‘Rain Time’ is an exhibition based on a large collection of photographs found at a flea market in London documenting the self-portraiture of one woman’s penchant for deep-sea submersion via the burgeoning world of rubber fetishism. The work embodies the spirit of the home hobbyist, willing to give her life to science in the ‘experimental diving tank’ otherwise understood as the stand-alone bath tub.
Made between the late 1950s and early 1960s, the collection pre-dates the controversial (for post war conservative Britain) Atom-Age publications as well as Helen Henley's Enter with Trumpets, which scandalised a British Public unwilling to let go of its tired conservatism and dusty pearls.
The collage works in the collection precede by at least 15 years what would become the cut n’ paste aesthetic of punk, devising and framing new identities culled from images in the daily papers, on the spectrum from Sophia Loren to Mrs Mills.
'Rain Time’ reveals a hitherto unseen world of exploratory erotic investigation taking place for personal satisfaction behind the net curtains of suburban Britain. It is so called for the catalogue of rubber wear accompanying the archive, one subsequently employed by Vivienne Westwood for her revolutionary Kings Road ‘Sex’ shop a decade later.
Hardback Book containing over 300 photographs on 228 pages.