The dying nature 

The relationship between mortality and immortality in Sarah Moon's photography

There is a hint of death in that gaze, a disturbing atmosphere that expands in an instant, the photographic one, just like the last breath that the Black Lady gives to her chosen ones.

A mistake, a chance, and for this reason even more terrifying, is the photo taken by Sarah Moon to a seagull in flight during a fashion shoot; the animal's gaze, empty as the infinite, dark and dangerous as a black hole, catapults the observer into a state of horror vacuous and of absolute fragility, putting before his eyes something inexpressible, too big to be faced: one's own mortality.

Marielle Warin, aka Sarah Moon, became famous for her peculiar perfume campaign by Jean Desprez published in 1978, where she immediately put her expressive link with the dream world and the natural world in all her forms, especially the most bizarre and disturbing.

Vegetation and fauna have always taken part in his photographic projects, directly or indirectly represented on film, but never as a mere symbolism or iconography of wild or bucolic life and, above all, never as an explicit denunciation in the name of some easy environmentalism.

The natural element in Sarah Moon is elusive and mysterious, ambiguous and often distressing and always relates to the human being, whether it is visible in the frame, whether it is present only through the fruit of his work, be it more simply because privileged observer of the final image.

The trees are caged and bent into metal structures that are always too small, the plants are twisted shadows that merge into phantasmagorical greyness or are the result of experimental grafts, the animals are dead and embalmed in "theatrical" or dying acts, having lost all their vitality wandering in limited spaces: the photographs, which appear disfigured, dotted, stained with corrosive substances, recall, both in the representation of the subjects and in the manipulation of the materials, the constant and cumbersome presence of man and his work dangerously against a nature that seems to lose all its pure beauty.

Nature then changes into an uncertain, shady, dark and, for this reason, sublime presence.

In Alchemies(published in Italy by Contrasto) by Sarah Moon, nature is a pretext for advancing into the undecipherable, where black and white become opaque and the colours become pale, where the grain blends the figures into an enigmatic fog.

It is a poem of nightly verses, embalmed and fixed vision of moments already dead when caught by the simple gesture that triggers the chain reactions that shape the photograph.

Therefore an illusion is created, a poetic chimera, where the animate is inanimate and where the corpse appears, in a phantasmagoria in which the protagonists are no longer plants and animals, but the indissoluble link between life and death.

The artist thus delves into the intrinsic meaning of the photographic act, which has always been considered a technical form capable of creating a temporal discontinuity, a fatuous immortality, an instantaneous yet eternal exchange between a living and a living subject and an inanimate object therefore dead. The spectrum, as defined by Roland Barthes in his founding essay Camera Lucida, creates a disturbance in the spectator, breaking the usual, becoming significant and often unexplored gap between what is considered alive and what is considered dead, between soul and body, between becoming and state, between what one is and what remains.

The photography of Sarah Moon is completely detached from the real, making it necessary to abandon the usual perception of the natural in order to enter a world of dreamlike scents where man, inside or outside of that same vision, finds himself confronted with the ancient desire and need to want to control everything, even what is impossible to dominate.

All the inadequacy of the human being in the face of the power of nature takes shape in the modelling with an evanescent and dusty light, and not as in the colour catastrophes of William Turner or the silent immensity of Caspar David Friedrich, but showing what the man and photography itself have always wanted to oppose: time and death.

Life is laid bare through death and death is only possible through life: taxidermy animates the inanimate, while photography does the exact opposite, thus leaving the observer in a sensory haze where there are only fleeting apparitions of disturbing creatures, suspended in a rarefied atmosphere, a universe where time has not stopped but never existed, where death is life and life is death, where therefore everything is a stratified surface in an immobile becoming.

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,

Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind

Cannot bear very much reality.

Time past and time future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

          (Burnt Norton, from Four Quartets, Thomas Stearn Eliot)

Present, past, future: concepts that are dispersed among the shadows, among those folds that the light cannot reach, leaving the biggest enigma to make its way in front of the eyes of the beholder and who knows how to look. Besides, what are the alchemies of the title of the project, if not flashes, snapshots, of an arcane science, a magical practice for the vain and crazy search for eternity?

The chimera takes shape and shows man the finite and the infinite, the prevailing illusion and the flow of things that constitutes that reality that is so ungraspable and unbearable.

Sarah Moon, following in some way the ancient alchemic teachings using a unique and recognizable artistic style, investigates immortality and how much it is connected to the transience of nature, a living nature therefore dead therefore eternally dying.

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