As part of OpenWalls Arles 2020, we are highlighting photographers whose work is connected to this year’s theme: Growth. Find out how your work could be exhibited alongside Les Rencontres d’Arles 2020 at openwalls.co.
“I’m incapable of sitting in a place of pure joy,” says Aaron Hardin. “I don’t think it’s within me.” Looking at Hardin’s series The 13th Spring, you would be forgiven for not realising that the work is about the birth of his daughter, and his new journey as a father. Photographs of new life often lend themselves to symbols synonymous with purity and excitement, but Hardin chose the cyclical motif of cicadas to explore the anxieties of new parenthood. “I saw this glimpse of a magic and tragic world that my child has to exist in,” he explains, “that I have to explain and interpret to this new human.”
The 13th Spring began as a project at graduate school. Hardin had started attending Hartford Art School in Connecticut, US – a big move away from his home in Jackson, Tennessee – when his wife told him they were expecting a child. “A huge reason why I went to graduate school was because my wife and I had been told we were unable to have children,” says Hardin. “But at the end of my first week, my wife picked me up with a Father’s day card.” Hardin went back to Jackson soon afterwards, to find a project he could document for his course. “It was never my intention to photograph in response to this miraculous and terrifying period of my life.”
Hardin began to photograph the small things he noticed around him; a snake on his doormat, fog over a lake, and the leaves of a tree growing through a shed window. “I knew subconsciously I was wrestling with my anxieties of bringing a new, pure life into a troubling world,” says Hardin. “But I didn’t realise I was making pictures about that or in response to that.”
In the southern states of America, cicadas have a spiritual and narrative significance. “Every 13 years, they spring up from the ground to mate with one another,” says Hardin. He notes that they are often compared to biblical descriptions of locusts, and after emerging from the ground for a couple of weeks, they lay their eggs beneath the ground and die. A month or two after Hardin’s daughter was born, a swarm of cicadas arose on Hardin’s street. “I realised I was experiencing one of the most important moments of my life when this brood of cicadas was having the most important moment of theirs,” says Hardin. “I felt bonded to them in that.”
But the cicadas also took on a greater meaning for Hardin, and came to symbolize his fears for his daughter as she grew up, and the impact of the passing of time on her innocence. “When these little creatures come back, my daughter is going to be 13,” says Hardin. “She will be a teenager, not this innocent baby, and she will know things about the world I can’t protect her from. She will probably be damaged in some way.”
In one photograph, a cicada emerges from its shell, but Hardin explains that the image is often interpreted as two cicadas mating. The photograph takes on a duality of procreation and recreation. “The creature sheds its old existence as it comes out of its shell,” says Hardin. “That is the experience I was having.” Hardin, who sees fatherhood as transformative, explains that the image represents part of him dying when his daughter was born, and a new part of him emerging. The feelings of fear that sit alongside his excitement at becoming a new parent are both embodied and placated by the cicadas. “There was something very special about sharing this experience with this non-sentient being,” he says.
This is your last chance to apply to OpenWalls Arles 2020! Submit your work responding to the theme ‘growth’, and you could be part of a group show at Galerie Huit Arles alongside Les Rencontres d’Arles 2020. Deadline: 25 July 2019 23:59 (UK time)