David Birkin’s ‘Confession’ series engages with themes of narration and purgatory. Sitters – members of Birkin’s family – were asked to reveal an undisclosed secret in front of the camera. They sat alone and were given control of the camera’s exposure, having been asked to open the shutter at the start of their speech, and close it at its end. Thus, the duration of the exposure was determined by the length of the confession.
Birkin explores what he sees as the metaphorical shedding of skin that takes place in the act of confession. Subtle movements in the sitter’s pose are captured around them as a record of their communication, and embedded into the field of the photograph. Visible as a ghostly residue, the works are influenced by Victorian photographic portraiture in which sitters were required to be perfectly still for a number of minutes in order to be represented.
David Birkin studied anthropology at Oxford University and fine art at the Slade. Combining original and appropriated imagery with a conceptual approach, his work reflects on the failure of images and the relationship between photography and loss. At its core is a concern for the points at which the personal and political collide, and the limits of visibility: absence, the unseen, the ephemeral and the ineffable.
David Birkin is a 2013-14 ISP fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2012, he was on VLA’s Art & Law Program in New York, and recently finished a residency at Yaddo. He was the recipient of the Sovereign Art Prize (Barbican, London), Celeste Art Prize (Museo Centrale Montemartini, Rome), Arts Council England film funding and a National Media Museum bursary. Birkin has exhibited at the Courtauld Institute, London; The Photographers’ Gallery; Michael Hoppen; Saatchi New Sensations; Dumbo Arts Center, Brooklyn; Photomonth, Krakow; the Tallinn Kunstihoone, Estonia; and the Solyanaka State Gallery, Moscow. His work was recently shown at the MoMA PS1 Rockaway Dome as part of Expo 1: New York.