June 13th – The Festival of the Shadowed Man

In 1956 the celebrated photographer Kait Echinae was looking through the photographs she’d taken the previous day, the contact sheets laid out before her, when she noticed that one of a set of near-identical photos (a model, nude, posing in her studio) was off somehow. It took her a moment to realise what had changed the composition so subtly – the mirror in the back of the shot had something dark reflected in it. She found the shot on the film roll and projected it through her enlarger onto the desk. There was a man in the mirror, cast in shadow.

The man himself wasn’t particularly scary or strange, but for him to be reflected in the mirror he must have been stood in the doorway, around the corner of the studio; he must have been standing there, uninvited and unnoticed as she worked. He was probably a visitor, a new client or new model, maybe she left the door unlocked and he walked up the staircase, only to see she was busy, so he left. Still, there was something about the whole thing that made her uneasy.

After she had showed the image to her friends, to whichever of her various lovers she was most emotionally involved with at the time, they all agreed it was weird and forgot about it. Yet the image obviously made some kind of mark on Echinae, and memory of the shadowed, out-of-focus face was ingrained somewhere at the back of her mind, because six years later, in 1962, she saw him again.

She was at a special exhibition entitled ‘LABOUR’ at the Museum of the Buentoilliçan Image, when she saw him. There was a selection of photographs depicting various different defunct factory unions, assembled before the camera, crowds large and small standing beneath banners or the signage of their place of work, some carrying flags that were presumably bright red, or black, though the photograph was in black and white. There, amongst the gathered workers of the Warren Road Brewery, was that same figure. Unlike the other women and men, he didn’t stand smiling at the camera with arms folded or around other union-members; he looked as if he were trying to traverse the scene, to squeeze past them (they were taking up most of the street, after all). Perhaps this movement is what made his face blurred, difficult to make out.

This, at least, is the story that Echinae told at the opening of her last ever exhibition in 1975, after she had allegedly spent the following years seeking out and acquiring images of this mysterious figure. The exhibition was called ‘Have You Seen This Man?’ and was markedly different from the type of work with which she had made her name. Usually Echinae’s images were sensual things, focusing on the texture of skin, the beauty of the naked human form, both within and outside the context of sex work. Yet this new exhibition simply contained thirteen images of the mystery man, all taken at different times, by different artists.

Most visitors took the exhibition to be a step into avant-garde territory, a playful lie-as-art, believing that Echinae’s almost fanatical insistence on the authenticity of the images was a performance. Yet there were those who took her word as the truth, and began to seek out other images of this strange man, spread across Buentoille. It was with a group of these believers, Searchers of the Shadowed Man as they called themselves, that Echinae spent most of her time with before her death. She would spend long hours with them, searching the Hidden Library, and various museums and galleries, for images of the man, all the time concealing from them, even those with whom she had formed more intimate relationships, the pernicious cancer that was slowly killing her. It wasn’t until she became to weak that she was confined to her bed that she revealed it to her newfound followers. She died three weeks later.

Today those same followers, and a number of people who have joined the group since Echinae was still alive, will exhibit all those images collected in the first exhibition, held on the same day as today, alongside new finds they have gathered since. This will be the first exhibit held by the group since 2011, due to a general paucity of finds in recent years. There are now 58 images in the collection, although around 26 of those have been rejected by critics as it is not at all clear that the figure is the same shadowed man. Those same critics have generally poured scorn on the group and their shows, claiming that even the original thirteen images were fakes, very skilful photographic manipulation intended to deceive the viewer. An attempt to avoid being forgotten by a woman who knew she was dying.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Organ of Holy Fire Conflagration Day
  • The Festival of Palmistry
  • Municipal Tree Climbing Day