6: Reciprocal photoshoot
I worked with my colleague Alice Frost on this project. We both worked with photographs from family albums, although Alice worked with a specific image of her mother, and I chose a range of images taken by my grandfather.
On a freezing cold day in November, Alice and I booked a warehouse space for my photographs, which involved privacy and the ability to black the space out for projection purposes. I'm primarily a moving image artist, although I use photography as a research tool, and therefore I'm at home with projecting images onto surfaces. Part of my Advanced Practice work on my Masters of Fine Art deals with looking at the legacy handed down to me by my family over the years. Here is a link to the most recent work which deals with this theme.
In the past I had looked at the similarity of artistic vision between me and my grandfather - in some notable cases, we had taken exactly the same photograph, 50 years apart and with no knowledge of each other's work. That led me to question how much of me is actually me, and how much is handed down through genetic and behavioural modelling. I began to feel the fluidity of my own boundary, which is why I needed to look at my grandfather's work in the context of my own skin. I wanted to know how much I had been created by the people before me. My idea was to select some of the portraits of my mother and grandmother and project them over my body and face.
There are many layers of meaning to this process: taking the old (ancestors, in analogue) and digitising it and projecting it as a digital image over the new (me). There is something in it about death and incorporeality coming up against life and skin, and also about light hitting skin (humans are "light eaters", in the words of artist James Turrell - we absorb sunlight and synthesize it into vitamin D). Then there are the obvious considerations about physical similarity and how genes express themselves as bodily/facial features - how genes actually arrange my boundaries for me. I find it interesting that I have very little say in what physical form I take - this was determined for me by others - and my physical form has a direct bearing on how people relate to me now. It is not quite correct to say that we are entirely self-made. I am hugely aware of the crucial role of choice in every movement that we make, but we operate from a platform that has been created and nurtured by others, genetically and in early childhood.
My moving image work deals with the notion of autobiography; specifically, I'm looking at the semantics of the use of the term and how it can be blown apart to interrogate the parts of self that we pick and choose to craft identity. In this way, the notion of transcending one's genetic inheritance comes into play. But in order to effect this transcendence, one must understand what the inheritance is and how it feels to fully inhabit it, and then how it feels to stand out side of it. These photographs represent the start of my enquiry into this process.
I've included both the original photo by my grandfather, plus the photo of the projection over me. As far as possible, we tried to line my facial features up with those in the photographs, and also tried to mimic pose. As I was being projected upon, I was literally blinded, and relied on Alice's instructions as to which way to move. We also discovered that her camera had trouble with the colours used by the projector - it looks as though I've applied post-production colour to the images, but these are exactly as they were taken. The only editing I have done is in either cropping or straightening the images.
I was expecting to feel very moved during this photoshoot, but given that the space was colder than a really cold place in winter, what I was mostly concerned about was not becoming hypothermic. We tried projecting onto my skin directly, but strangely my lack of clothing distracted from the images. They seemed to work better when I wore a plain, snugly fitting, light coloured shirt. We found that it was difficult to get poses right with verbal instruction, and from the point of view of the person being manipulated into place, it was actually quite physically difficult to twist myself into the correct position. I found this odd, considering the poses are not difficult. This symbolism of this strange disparity did lead me to question just how much I've moved beyond their nature/nurture template for me: I felt it was difficult to try to contort myself back into being like them. Interestingly, we also discovered that my face lines up much more readily with my grandmother's than my mother's - my mother's face is much longer. You can see this quite clearly in the 4th and 5th images; we had to choose a feature (mouth, nose or eyes) to use as an anchor, knowing that it would trip out the other features. But there was no such difficulty with my grandmother's face, which is interesting because normally I'm told just how much I look like my mother. I'm also intrigued by how my very 3Dness vs the 2D photos means that lining up features becomes an immediate problem, as the image is interrupted and jumps off the surface of the wall. It adds a certain eeriness to the photographs, especially the 4th image where my shadow completely obliterates my mother's face on the wall. It was asked of me why I only used my grandfather's photos for this exercise; the answer I gave is that here is where most of my character and proclivities have come from (I'm more Hope than Walden), and I adore the idea of my grandfather's vision being the vessel through which I synthesise his and his wife's genetic legacy to me.
As far as I know, there are hardly any artists working with this idea. John Clang is one, and Hannah Gottschalk is another.
Alice's images were made in response to a photograph of her mother holding Alice as a baby. Alice's mother is the same age as Alice is now, in the photo, and Alice wanted to consider the similarities and differences between her mother's wants and needs at age 30, and her own. How has time moved on, and what effect does that have on, say, a woman's biological clock? Is it very different to be 30 years old 30 years ago, I wonder? Or are the expectations of women drastically different now?
In each photo, Alice mimics her mother's pose and expression (as well as the house, the chair, the clothing - she tried to get the photos as close in every detail to the original, even down to recolouring the photos in post-production), holding up objects of significance to her in the absence of having her own child yet. Again, we had the same issues with trying to mimic pose, with me attempting to direct Alice into the pose as accurately as possible. Interestingly, Alice started the exercise thinking she looked a lot like her mother, but concluded the exercise feeling like perhaps she was actually quite different to her mother.
Jo Spence and Rosy Martin were collaborative artists who worked with re-enacting scenes and situations, either as emotionally cathartic role play or recreation of photographs.