There is something incredibly and profoundly beautiful about Daragh Soden’s short series titled ‘Nelson’. Comprised solely of two images and a poem also written by Soden, this body of work is an ode to the life and death of a young child, Nelson that he encountered in Ghana in 2013.
With no birth certificate to precisely determine his birth-year, Nelson was “about 12 years old” and enjoyed playing football as a goalkeeper despite being described by others as ‘too bad to play on the team’. In the sweltering heat, sitting about waiting for minutes to turn to hours, and hours to days, there was little else from him to do to pass the time. He sat, he played and he waited for time to pass in an unbroken repetitive cycle.
Soden describes the life of Nelson as a dull and abstracted reality and this is subtly expressed in the first of the two portraits and the empty space surrounding him. The young child gently looks out at the viewer in front of his own creations, draw on a blackboard that remains nonetheless, predominately unembellished and a predominately blank canvas.
Then early one morning, Nelson passed away. He was there, and then he was gone; never offered the opportunity to escape his fate, and never given the chance to do more.
The solitary image of this young child in the midst of early life is perhaps one of the only to exist of the boy and poses a difficult question to all of us still living; What do we really leave behind us as we move from this world into the unknown? Like Nelson, aren’t we all just playing the waiting game?
The second of the portraits explores the death of the child. Soden attended Nelson’s funeral, and was surprised to find a photographer there, selling photographs of the deceased child positioned upright, with a fan directed at his body to keep it from further decay, while family members and friends posed with his body.
Dressed in traditional Ghanaian dress, in front of a backdrop of lightly patterned material, punctuated with brightly coloured flowers and adorned with more Ghanaian cloth, Nelson posed once more for the camera, this time no longer full of life.
This abstracted backdrop placed behind the deceased Nelson stands in almost complete contrast to the young boy who loved to play football, and works as a metaphor for the random death of the child. It was never made exactly clear to Soden what had caused him to pass, and it seemed as bizarre that death had come knocking at Nelson’s door as those objects now floating strangely about his quite corpse. There is no pattern to death that can be understood by man.
Soden’s poem sits neatly in the ravine between the two contrasting images, pulling together strands of each. Elements of life are reflected in the structure of the poem; the undecorated simplicity, the haphazard fragmentation of sentences, the ‘stop and start’ nature of the rhythm and the repetition of the phrase “time passed” (along with several other references to the slow passage of time) each reflect the nature of Nelson’s life. The abrupt punctuation of the poem, with its sentences cut short, tells of a darker side to the story.
In Soden’s stark contrast between life and death, he offers Nelson a ‘Memento Mori’, a technique used for centuries to remind the living of the transient nature of life itself. In this way Soden has used the technique to remind us that for as long as time itself, death, as well as life, has made little or no sense. This phenomenon is captured perfectly in the face of young Nelson.
Life may pass to death, but the constant feature of the two is the uncertain and unpredictable patterns that affect both. We will never gain complete autonomous control over our lives, just as we will never prove to defy death. With this in mind, perhaps the constant feature to each of these images is the abstracted and bizarre backdrops framing both Nelson’s life and his death.
All images are the copyright of Daragh Soden.
You can find more of his work here.