The saddest part of a broken heartFiest
Isn’t the ending as much as the start.
By Luke Whyte, Editorial Director
Soon after I got off the phone with artist Caitlin Cronenberg and sat down to write about her new Series on SuperRare, “Persistence Of Vision,” I was reminded of the night in northern Scotland I stopped believing in Santa Claus.
I must have been around seven. Santa’s red particle board sleigh had been strapped atop a boat trailer and hooked to a pickup truck to parade through town. Local children were being recruited to help Claus collect charitable donations and, being the gift hungry little bootlicker I was, I threw on some mittens and trudged into darkness to earn my wishlist.
At the end of his route, Santa offered me a ride home. Delighted, I climbed aboard the sleigh and we drove into the wind. Santa sat back and sighed. He looked me in the eye, pulled down his beard, and asked me to shield the wind so he could light a cigarette. His skin was pockmarked. His cough wet. “Slow the fuck down,” he rasped at our driver.
“Persistence Of Vision” doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas. A project nine years in the making, it began with an idea for a book of photography about heartbreak and the spectrum of emotions it evokes.
“The idea was to create these short stories of one to six images,” Cronenberg said. Working with art director Jessica Ennis, Cronenberg recruited actresses like Julianne Moore and Keira Knightley and gave them short backstories of romantic distress for what would become “The Endings,” a best-selling book of 28 short photographic stories.
“Jess and I, we would come up with an idea for the story and we would do all of the things that you have to do, like create the set, have the styling, the hair and makeup and all of that stuff,” she said. From there, the actresses were free to explore. “With our subject, we would say ‘Okay, so your storyline is you just caught your boyfriend or husband having an affair and your character is an artist so, instead of just setting fire to everything, you decided to meticulously cut up every item of clothing that he owns.’”
The result is an outstanding series of evocative vignettes. Unique but universal, they strum memories and pluck emotions like string instruments of déjà vu.
“Honestly, I felt like a voyeur. I felt like I shouldn’t be watching them. They were having this private moment and I shouldn’t be there.”Caitlin Cronenberg
Cronenberg’s approach to photography enables these moments. She shoots continuously during a session, capturing every moment. In the case of “The Endings”, this resulted in thousands of unused images into which, with the emergence of NFTs, she saw the opportunity to breathe new life: photographic animations created from still frames. And from this idea, “Persistence of Vision” – a SuperRare Series of five animations composed from the short story stills of “The Endings” – was born.
“I spent so long holding onto these [“Persistence of Vision”] images and knowing what I had but not being able to share them, it feels almost as if [NFTs] were designed for photographers to be able to show their work in a different light,” she said. “I think there’s such a vulnerability in showing yourself as an artist by showing your process and that’s why I got really excited about having a couple hundred frames in a row because they’re certainly not all perfect… but, as a collection, it shows the process of not only how I came to create the final image but how the subject interacted with the camera.”
It’s a medium tailor made for her style.
“I like to shoot continuously,” she said, “because I want to capture the in-between moments more so than the moments that people think I’m trying to capture. I want to get them when they’re caught off-guard.”
It’s no surprise that Caitlin has honed the craft of catching the moments between. The daughter of internationally renowned director, David Cronenberg, she grew up with one foot in the polished, arguably plastic, world of Hollywood and the other in their home 2,500 miles away in Toronto. It’s a dynamic she’s sustained to this day. As a mother still living in the Toronto area, she’ll jump from sledding with her little kids on a winter weekend to flying to LA Monday morning for a shoot with Billie Elish.
She’s down to earth and knows how to make a subject at ease. Her cat wanders across her laptop during our video chat as I ask her what draws her to portraiture and to projects like “The Endings” and “Persistence of Vision.”
“It’s the connection, being able to attempt to capture someone’s true self as they actually are, not the self they’re trying to put forward… It gives me so much pleasure when I feel like I’ve captured an authentic portrait.”Caitlin Cronenberg
Therein lies the magic behind “Persistence of Vision.” Cronenberg has succeeded in capturing something authentically human. It’s in the imperfections, the shadows that season the light. When the fourth wall waivers and the actresses pull down their beards to light up a cigarette, those are the moments we remember.