Project 3 Self-absented portraiture

Another piece of coursework that made me think and made me revisit previous ideas.

The photograph by Maria Kapajeva (Nhung) in the course notes hadn’t really engaged me and I was a bit underwhelmed at the idea of looking at more of her work. I did, anyway, because generally there’s always something to learn from doing so. The work shown came alive for me as part of the sequence, and when seen a bit larger on screen. The series is a set of her peers, all women, all immigrants. To me the series works when I consider the relationship between Maria and the women that she’s photographing. There’s a candidness, an open-ness, a trust. The portraits are situated in different settings, I think of them as the women’s own spaces but I don’t know for sure. I really like the use of colour, the feeling that Maria has respectfully reproduced each woman’s colour palette. As a photographer she feels unobtrusive to me in this series, yet I’m aware that every women photographed is looking at her.

Reading the Photoparley interview with her I was both amused and relieved to read her answer to the question “What is you main aim with this work?” Maria replied:

I honestly don’t know the aim of this work. I just felt like taking portraits of women I have met in my life who I admire as individuals and professionals in whatever they specialize. It just happened that they are all my peers and they are all immigrants as I am. It might be some sort of reflection on my long-lasting connection with the ideas in ‘Russian brides’.

I think this relatively simple motivation resulted in a very strong series of work, possibly more so than if she’d explicitly set out to photograph herself via women she knew in similar circumstances. I think there’s always an element of self-portrait in everyone’s work, it’s hard not to give away something of yourself in what you choose to photograph and how you photograph and present it.

I was excited by Maria’s work involving patchwork and cross-stitching. I enjoy work that takes traditionally feminine pursuits and occupations and builds them into contemporary work within a feminist context. It’s interesting that she collaborated with her mother on the Double-wedding ring quilt. Named I am Usual Woman, it features images from how-to websites on the best images to use to attract a mate.

I have enjoyed Sophie Calle’s work since FiP. Something about Take Care of Yourself makes me want to pull up a chair and settle in for the evening. I think part of it is the universal subject matter – who hasn’t received a poorly phrased dumping letter/email/text message? My own history of responding to these is not one I’m particularly proud of, yet has always been creative. In this way I identify with, and to a certain guilty extent delight in, Sophie’s extensive, careful, considered and completely compliant response to the phrase “take care of yourself”. She takes the obsession from herself, the recipient, and amplifies it across a Greek Chorus of 107 women (including a parrot if I remember correctly). A multitude of shades of meaning and a multitude of responses are extracted from a private email and put into the public domain. I love that it ended up as film, photography and text; when her story with him should have been over (he wanted it to be over) she ensured that it had the longevity and pizazz of a broadway musical.

Nigel Shafran is another photographer whose work feels as if it’s been with me since day 1 of my EYV learning. To address the points in the coursework.

No, it didn’t surprise me that it was taken by a man. FiP also introduced me to Fischli & Weiss’s surreal domestic tableaux, with kitchen implements balanced surrealy atop one another. I don’t feel at ease with the idea of masculine and feminine photography and try not to apply that thinking to my work or my research. This might be me in denial, in the same way that I don’t always see my own work as as feminist as others see it. I don’t think gendering work is helpful though (see my write up  Exhibition – Tribe at the Fox Talbot Museum for more on this).

I don’t think gender contributes as much to an image as experience does. Sadly,  many of our experiences are dictated or at the least influenced by our gender, so there probably is an indirect link.

Not including people gives a bit of a sense of intrigue, presumably they are off somewhere working or having fun whilst the dishes dry. For me, the N and R lettering (Nigel and Ruth presumably) behind the taps brings me back to the people, and wondering which of them runs hot and which runs cold. Not having people tells us nothing about their physical appearance, we can tell that they cook their meals but don’t enjoy the camaraderie of working out who washes and who dries, since the dishes are left to drain.

For me, they do count as still life compositions even though they don’t show anything that was once alive. Some of Laura Letinsky’s work though hovers between photo collage and still life.

I would really like to write about Anna Fox’s Cockroach Diary but the truth is that it makes me feel a bit queasy and trying to find a full version online isn’t helping with the queasiness. I think this is one that would benefit from being seen in its intended format -one book containing facsimiles of Anna’s diary pages and one with the photographs. The mix of text pages and images on the website is frustrating as nothing is quite big enough and you can’t follow the narrative. It makes me think of the things that happen in houses that strain relationships – often, but not always, insect related. We can deal with people but we can’t always deal with insects.




2 thoughts on “Project 3 Self-absented portraiture

  1. Catherine April 2, 2018 / 7:37 pm

    I was attracted towards Nigel Shafran’s work – the series I really enjoyed was an earlier one of photographs of his wife on the phone. Sophie Calle really speaks to me as well even though I think she’s somewhat cruel at times. ‘Take Care of Yourself’ is a model for me of what can be achieved by using multi-dimensional work, and all in a book at that!

    • Kate April 2, 2018 / 7:42 pm

      I’m very fond of the phone set too. It’s the way that she looks at him when he’s photographing her talking to someone else, such an interesting dynamic there. And there’s such pleasure as well in some of the images, she’s obviously so engaged in the conversation, it’s lovely.
      Agreed on Sophie Calle, I still buy her work though (I probably wouldn’t buy Anna Fox’s cockroach work though…)

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