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Jo Ractliffe: End of Time 1999

Monique Pelser
10 December 2012

A review by Monique Pelser

Jo Ractliffe (born 1961 Cape Town South Africa)
End of Time 1999
33 x 33 cm
Silver gelatin print

Ractliffe’s square format black and white photograph of a dead donkey is profoundly beautiful and sad.  It stays with a viewer. The close-up, tightly cropped picture of the head is taken from the angle where the photographer is obviously standing over the corpse of the donkey like a forensic photographer would document a murder victim.

The title of the work, End of Time, and the date 1999 refer to the turn of the millennium when there was speculation of the Y2K and there were heightened apocalyptic feelings.  Symbolically the donkey is associated with Jesus and carrying the Christian prophet.  The image is a token of the artist’s own questions about time, phases of life and existential questions. 

The medium format photograph renders beautifully the texture of the ground and the of the donkey’s hair.  It is evocative and draws one into the image to stare like one would of a close-up portrait of a person.  There is a momento mori quality and one cannot help but look deeply into the image with a morbid fascination.  Momento Mori translated means that you must remember you are merely a human and you are mortal.  In early photography death portraits were taken of the recently deceased to show that the person lived but also died. 

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