Above: A photo taken by law enforcement during a visit to Paisley Park Mansion on 21 April, 2018. Credit: Carver County Sheriff's Office.
Speaking in 1995, J.G. Ballard introduced the concept of a "composite portrait" which activates the "forensic imagination," whereby a reader, or viewer, builds up a picture of a person from only a few scant clues: "we rent a strange [i.e., new] apartment and find traces of the previous occupants--a medical journal, a douche-bag [vaginal wash], a videotape of an opera [say]--and we begin to assemble from these apparently unrelated materials a hypothesis about who the previous occupants were (Extreme Metaphors: 316)."
Photos made by scenes-of-crime photographers at Paisley Park, Chanhassen, Minnesota, on 21 April, 2016, the day that Prince was found dead were released this week by Carver County Sheriff's Office. One of the photos (illustrated above) is a par excellence example of the forensic portrait as set out by Ballard in that "we begin to assemble [mentally] from these apparently unrelated materials, a hypothesis" ... about the occupant of Paisley Park Mansion.
It is a photo that can be unpacked or cracked-open forensically, with each of the items present in this unarranged melange (SOED: a mixture; a collection of heterogeneous items or elements; a medley) standing as a (possible) clue about Prince's life. The Bible: Christian faith; dictionary: composing lyrics; US dollars: cash is useful for purchasing illegal substances and services; self-portrait drawing with third eye: an interest in mysticism and esotericism; self-portrait drawing: the crucial role of image in pop success; CDs and audio tapes: the forgotten and now-antiquated age in which Prince emerged as a star (1988); floppy disk and USB drive: the digital revolution which took place through Prince's career; candle: Prince's fascination with mood-and-atmosphere ... twisted cables: the often tortuousness and disorganized nature of Prince's mental states ... (The unpacking process here has only just begun.)
Of course, in fine-art proper, a painting which places together such elements intentionally is a basic format of still life painting, known as vanitas or memento mori ("always remember you will die"). But the Ballardian composite still life is different to these: the objects in a Ballardian conglomerate are a default accumulation an ad hoc grouping. A classical Ballardian composite (as the example he gives above) actually inverts subjectivity: these are objects that have been actively discarded and rejected (thrown away; unwanted) by the subject. We might recall, in this context, Walter Benjamin's description of Eugene Atget's modus operandi: "Atget sought to photograph whatever was unremarked, forgotten, cast adrift."
(5 May 2018)