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09 June 2022

Pandemic Timelesness in a Thaumatrope

09 June 2022 - Written by Nora Criado Diaz

Augury is the debut photobook of artists Elena Helfrecht and Teri Varhol, who invite us on their walks of the first lockdowns in this collaborative project published by Antics Publications.

Augury is a back-to-back double-bound book that presents two series of photographs: "The Swallow" by Elena Helfrecht and "The Cage’" by Teri Varhol. Perambulating through Prague, London, Bavaria, and the Alps the two photographers depict what had become the new daily. In black and white photography, these walks become a way of rediscovering the world through an almost oneiric vision of nature and cities, where a sequencing of images without particular order and no beginning nor end compile often-overlooked locations and objects.

The images look like a simple faithful representation of normal objects or settings, but when looked at closely they conform a map of uncharted symbols and realms. As writer Krasimira Butseva observes in the introduction text, the viewer is led through crosses marking the stalks of trees, windows concealed, a nest of wasps, mist, an opening in the sky, an author's wound, and an onion tree.  

Through the omission of color, light compositions and textures become the protagonists of this publication, creating a visceral narrative of what felt like a distorted moment of reality. At a time when we were forced into spaces and attempted to look differently to cope, these two photographers propose to us their vision, consisting of highlighting the tension between light and shadow. The photographers explain: "For many people, the sense of time during the pandemic ceased to exist. Many of us tuned into a kind of cyclical perception of life and being, where the natural cycles of night and day became indistinguishable, giving rise to a somewhat magical and supernatural atmosphere".

Augury is inspired by the 19th-century concept of a thaumatrope (as mentioned by the artists in an interview for GUP Magazine) – an optical illusion consisting of a disk with a picture on each side attached to two pieces of string. The cage and the swallow are the two most representative elements of a thaumatrope, referencing the name of each of the chapters. Furthermore, Augury proposes an updated version of Baudelaire’s Flaneur, one who roams and finds aesthetic pleasure in the act of looking around, losing track of time and place only guided by enjoyment. Elena and Teri combine this sensation of having no specific place to go and nowhere particular to look at, with the new perception of time that developed in all of us due to the endless days and months of lockdowns, resembling the circular motions of a thaumatrope and the caged swallow. Regarding their methodology of moving around and looking, the artists speak about a sense of transportation that goes deeper into a "transformation of the mind, which sometimes manifests as contrasting portals of light and shadow, or (in Elena’s case) semi-staged scenarios evoking fantasy; a perfect escape from reality, therefore providing refuge when the world around us seems to be uncertain and slipping away".

The particular design of the book is made of two separate volumes contained on a slipcase, echoing the symbolism above mentioned. The circularity of time, represented in the endless sequence of images, trapped in a small cage. The artists explain how within the book they decided to create a 'hint' of timeline through the flap of the book, which contains a series of dates corresponding to each of the days in which the photographs were taken. In this way, and as the authors explain to me "Elena’s photos were mostly captured at night, illuminating darkness with a bold flash, whilst Teri’s images were cast in shadows, balancing the brightness of long summer days. Where one ends, the other begins, like Ouroboros devouring its tail and with each bite crafting a new cycle, seeing more clearly and forming new connections with and within each other’s imagery. [...] These contrasts became a starting pivotal theme, that forms the axis which binds the book together. It is precisely these tensions that make it spin, mirror, and eventually merge into one and become whole".

Many photographic projects were carried out during the lockdowns, Augury however proposes a unique visual narrative that tackles the idea of looking and walking from a mystical perspective. Furthermore, the design and execution of the book only makes the reader more curious about the images and the potential file-rouges that can appear among them, making us recall our own experience and relation to the objects and settings depicted. 

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All photos © Elena Helfrecht and Teri Varhol

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Normal Edition:

6.3 x 9.25” Softcover

Dos-à-dos binding

Silver foil-debossed cover

Offset print on matte paper

120 pages (60 on each side)

Introduction by Krasimira Butseva

BUY HERE (Normal Edition)


Special Edition: 

Signed copy by Elena Helfrecht and Teri Varhol

Two archival pigment prints 6 × 9” (Incl. signed certificates of authenticity)

Essay by Krasimira Butseva

Housed in a Clamshell box

BUY HERE (Special Edition)

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Elena Helfrecht’s work revolves around the inner space and the phenomena of consciousness, emerging from an autobiographical context and opening up to the surreal and fantastic, at times grotesque. Interweaving memories, experiences, and imagination, she creates inextricable narratives with multiple layers of meaning, characterized by visceral iconography. Her work has been exhibited and published internationally. Among others, she has been nominated for the FOAM Paul Huf Award and was a joint runner-up at the BJP International Photography Award in 2021.

Teri Varhol is a Czech artist working predominantly with photography and video. She graduated from the studio of Intermedia at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Brno and currently resides in London, UK. Her main interest lies in exploring unnameable and unacknowledged parts of the psyche – its hidden abilities, patterns, and oblique areas where reason and science still struggle to penetrate, where boundaries of reality blur, other realms collide, and the unexpected rises. Among others, she exhibited at DOX in Prague and was selected as one of BJP’s Female in Focus 2021 artists.

Antics Publications is a house-based publisher in Brooklyn, New York, and Bogota, Colombia, was founded in 2018. Primarily focused on photography, Antics Publications balances the work of new and well-established photographers to create an inclusive and open photography community to keep creativity and inspiration thriving.

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Nora Criado Diaz - (b. 1999, Spain) is a young curator and writer based between Spain and Italy. Through her studies at Central Saint Martins (London) and IED (Florence), she has developed a strong interest in contemporary visual culture, semiology, and the world of publications.

Written by

Nora Criado Diaz

Reading time

8 minutes

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