Read Time 8 minutes
Rain Time, & the chaos of memory
In 2022 Augenblick Press, an independent publisher of found photography established by Samuel Kilcoyne, released a limited edition book called Rain Time, in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name at Bloomsbury’s Horse Hospital. A year later he is preparing for a second print run of these strange, mysterious photographs.
Over 228 pages Rain Time features about half of the total number of photographs that Samuel has of a rubber-fetishist, taken in their home, somewhere, sometime in the mid-century, by an unknown someone. There are one or two visual clues in the images that suggest a time and a place [the address of a church in W3, 1960s furnishings and a Second World War issue life raft] but for the most part the figure, clad in diving equipment with a Kabuki-esque mask remains an enigma.
The pull of the book is not just that what we’re seeing is kind of weird, though it undoubtably is, but the fact that the pictures really challenge our perception of what suburban, church-going Britain was like 60 years ago. Far from the buttoned-up, pearl-clutching conservatism we might expect, here is a person exploring identity and sexuality in such a vivid way that it has the power to shock even now. And we thought we’d seen it all! Not only this, but how can somebody creating such impactful, even perverse artworks remain anonymous … just disappear into the ether? How can such a beguiling collection just be sitting unseen for all these years, destined for the garbage if a stroke of luck hadn’t brought it to a visionary custodian who would recognise their value instead?
Naturally our instinct is to want to know more, to project a narrative or a character onto the photographs, but for Samuel it’s all about the bigger picture. Ahead of the release of the new edition I met with him to find out more about how this story fell into his lap, and about reframing history through photography.
So I read that these photos were found in a house clearance?
Yeah. My friend called me up and he said, ‘um, do you want some dirty pictures?’ And I was like … No. God.
I mean, I’ve been [collecting found photography] for about 10 years, 11 years. And when you get a phone call like that, you’re like: Oh, it’s just going to be, like, fucking awful pornography.
You know what I mean?
Or it’s going to be someone’s wife, some swingers, you know?
Yeah. And, uh, I said, look, how many have you got? And he says, I’ve got 600. Do you want to come and have a look? They’re a bit weird.
And I was like, alright, go on then. And then, uh, he pulled out, like, four boxes. And I looked at the first picture, and I just said, ’is it all like this?’ And he’s like, ‘yeah’.
And I just fucking freaked out.
They are quite, um … disarming.
Aren’t they? I looked it up and it’s called aquaphilia, or hydrophyxillia. People that like to be drowned or to feel the feeling of drowning. So it’s strangulation but via water.
As the exhibition went on, there were so many people that kind of came by and said they find it really creepy.
Some people said they found it beautiful.
You know, some people had said this was a serial killer. Some people thought it was a man, and some that it’s definitely a woman.
We had every type of person come through and it was like every day that I was there, just there was more conversations, more people.
And what is your perception?
I still don’t know.
You can create stories, but I’m more intrigued to see what other people think.
There is all this writing on the back of the photographs. It’s her fantasy of how she sees herself, and the situations that she wishes to be in, in order to talk about what she’s wearing. I refer to her as a her because she refers to herself as a her.
I like to present things without context, I think context and theme can really take the illusion away.
But being tucked away in a box, waiting for you to find it, is now part of the lore of this imagery isn’t it?
That’s why I get up in the morning.
I’m quite envious of this, y’know? The mystery of it, and the history.
I used to help my dad out who had a stall at Spitalfields, he was a junk seller but with more of an avant-garde, antiquities approach. Strange stuff. Odd stuff.
I remember being there once when he’d got a collection of tiny pictures from Africa, just a bit bigger than thumbnail size, and about a thousand of them. I’d always loved history and looking at these pictures I couldn’t understand why I’d never learnt about this stuff.
And I realised at that point that what you could learn in history lessons or through lectures could be subverted. Because if you find a document from history, it can completely tell a different story.
And also, I’m just interested in how history, not just repeats itself, but rhymes with itself. The way that we photograph each other, the idea of oneness of human beings around the world, to capture very similar images, without any real, kind of, correlation to each other. Around the world and across time periods.
When Rain Time came to me I was reading a lot about gender and it proved that these subversions aren’t as new as many people in Britain seem to think they are. I seem to find archives that directly are part of today’s dialogues.
How do you organise your collection?
I don’t. If I organise it, I lose things. Chaos is the only way to do it. They’re found in chaos, so they should remain in chaos.
We look after them, put them in all their little, uh, little acid free things. We do look after them. But they stay in their madness. I like them to be mixed. It’s the chaos of memory, really.
All images courtesy of Augenblick Press.