Redheaded Peckerwood

In her essay that accompanies the book Karen Irvine, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago says of Christian Patterson’s ‘Redheaded Peckerwood’ that “…the most important implications of the (fictional or otherwise) crime are located not in the social, not in the collective, but more truly in the interior realm of our individual selves, where we harbor our own truths.” I wonder how many people, even those that come to this book, were aware of the events, or even the outcome in those few short weeks in 1957/8? The events that have led to popular culture to immortalize the ‘killing spree’ this book being another evidence – indeed a direct result of that perpetuation. Patterson’s fictional account though contests the notion of the single truth, making it manifold and this ‘openness’ is, for me, the strongest element of the book/work. It, the contextual arrangement of ‘evidence’, allows the reader to develop/enhance the narrative(s), to conject, to connect pieces together. Each image becomes imbued with potential because of its place within the sequence, the loose narrative becoming tighter or slacker as much because of what or how the viewer’s experience colours the mise-en-scene. Like “The Pond” the narrative flows from a beginning to an end, a serial narrative that defies, because it is in book form, ‘unstructuring’. The linear flow from front to back sequences the history of the events no matter what the evidence being presented is, its place in the chronicle and its narrative content continuing to develop, adding to the contextual framework, providing evermore substantiation. Truths I suspect are like secrets, once uttered are forever sullied via mediation, becoming something other than what they once were. Irvine previously also proposes that “… the meaning of memory is carried in the body..”, I wonder if what Patterson is doing here is to suggest that the evidences brought forward into the ‘real’ are also accented by the temporal sequencing as much as the evidence they provide? They appear in a chronological form and therefore their importance in the narration is amplified? That these are evidences of the memory of the protagonists, prefaced by the jointly signed scripted ‘Confession letter’? Either way it appears to ‘place’ the piece in the words of Starkweather and Fugate, a first person narrative account suggesting a privileged psychological perspective, allowing us to ‘walk in their shoes’. This would seem to me to be a prurient view but it suggests an altogether different aspect to both the case, which I have no great interest in, but, more importantly for me, how an alternative fiction can be developed to depict both the mundane and the other. The sensational slaying of eleven people by a young man and his even younger female accomplice, the consequential folkloric retelling in film and words, now also picture book would possibly inevitably tap into a sub-cultural national, perhaps international psyche, but the construction of a fiction – however rooted in fact or otherwise – via a sequence of images with residual textual anchorage is an accomplishment. The structure that enables the viewer/reader to develop imagery, sympathy and judgment through single purposeful sequence of photographs is inspirational, and particularly so in this stage of my studies. I have taken a lot from this book.


4 thoughts on “Redheaded Peckerwood

  1. A fascinating book, not least in the way it gives permission to blur the boundaries between ‘truth’ and ‘fiction’. I’ll comment no more at this stage because I need to leave my perceptions of the book ‘unclouded’ as it were until I’ve written my own thoughts on it!!

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