Flu, Heather Franklin, 2006 - November, 2021
Context is everything.
I first saw Flu, by Heather Franklin, in 2010. Heather, the Director of The Button Factory, Waterloo Ontario’s Community Arts Centre, made this drypoint print in 2006, drawn from a photo of three men during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918.
What drew me to the image was its strangeness. Three men, obviously out of doors (as indicated by the skewed horizon line, so likely to be farmers), in masks, facing an invisible, deadly threat. The title gave away the timeline and narrowed the reason for their masked anonymity to a necessity rather than a choice – they were not running from the law. But the masks still made them “others”, unrecognizable, in a situation I could not fathom. The print carried with it a sense of the uncanny, with a deep sense of foreboding.
In 2021, these men have become very knowable. They are us. They are simple people, dealing with a situation beyond their control in the simplest way they can. Now I find myself less concerned with the contagion swirling around them than with the economic straits they find themselves in, how their families are coping, whether or not they have lost loved ones. They have become human where once they were alien.
You can find more of Heather’s fine illustrations on her Instagram account @heathersphotophoto.
~ Mark Walton