Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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Matthew Dunne
The Killing Sink

When I took this photo I felt really excited. I’d been searching for someone with steel-jaw traps for months and finally found someone with a stash. As these are illegal to use and own, it was quite hard to find someone willing to volunteer theirs, but the individual who showed me these had picked them up and put them in their shed, hiding them from the harm they can inflict.

That morning, I gleefully prised them apart, straining my legs to lock the mechanism into place, pulling my hands quick-as-you-like to avoid getting lacerated by the eye-defying speed of the machine. Holding it in front of a sheet while the camera’s self-timer counted down felt like the anticipation before a school raffle: equally excited and also trying to construct some mental bulwarks against possible failures.

What strikes me as sort of odd, and maybe problematic, is feeling good about making art about something bad. Recently, I described myself as ‘a happy guy making art about awful things’, and I think that creates a really bizarre relationship to the world and art making. Years ago, when I was photographing male violence and shame, I would be excited to come across a street that spoke to that, or an obvious display of aggression, I’d say to myself ‘Yes! Finally! Fuck yes’ and fire shot after shot. Yet, later I’d feel a bit weird: should I be happy about finding something that, really, we’d be better off without?

With the work that this trap is a part of, I’m looking at the deliberate killing of Wedge-Tailed Eagles, an illegal and shockingly common act. It’s something that initially saddened me greatly and yet, as I make more work about it, I find a qualified gratification in finding objects and evidence that enhance the project. A friend recently reached out, an Eagle had died on her property, hitting a wire, “I’m saving it for you,” she texted me, “Don’t worry, it won’t smell”, was a hasty follow up. “How sad” I wrote back. I was sad, but I was also excited. How quickly could I drive the 4.5 hours to where she lives? How would I photograph this? How many ways could this make the work really drive home the message that animals should be alive and non-anthropomorphised? Should death excite me while I’m making work critical of that very thing?

I suspect this is a very common occurrence for a lot of artists. Initially drawn by concern, critique or sadness, the process of making something that hits those emotional notes can be satisfying and exciting, but it’s also kind of, well, gross. I don’t like feeling excited to have the chance to photograph something awful, yet I can’t lie and pretend I don’t feel a thrill here and there. I wonder, perhaps, if I’m now too distant from the issue. Have I, through making art about it, lost some of the emotional context that first propelled me towards making this work? Has the way I cared shifted and, if so, is this a good thing?

I wonder sometimes if others feel this way and ask themselves the same questions. Nothing helps soothe complex questions like solidary and a shared understanding that we’re all a bit messed up. I wonder, too, if my fellow artists catch themselves, sometimes, in the middle of something exciting and doubtfully wonder ‘shit, am I a good person anymore?’.

Matthew Dunne is a photographer/writer living and working in Melbourne. His work focuses on the complex and dizzying relationship between people, nature and place. He is obsessed with why we harm what we love and how we relate to the world around us. He lacks a gall-bladder, survived an all-boys school and landed a backflip once.