For detail of Lee’s work please see my post here
When researching Lee’s ‘Projects’ series, I linked it in my mind to the work of Nan Golding who also immersed herself in different cultures. Golding made herself part of the drag queen culture and reported on life within this particular culture as an insider; someone who was accepted and included. Lee however, has not ‘joined’ a group in this intimate way but rather ‘posed’ with them to raise question about her varying identities and the social codes that the group adopts.
Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative?
Lee has had to observe members of different groups in order to learn their ‘codes’, their way of dressing, their speech, postures and gestures and has had to, necessarily, watch them. Voyeurism usually has something of a sinister meaning attached to it, and Lee’s work has no intention of this nature so I feel ‘voyeuristic’ to be the wrong word. Observational perhaps. Anthropological even, in its study of social norms. OK, maybe a little deceitful if she didn’t reveal her true identity but on the whole I find them to be a fascinating insight into the codes that stereotype different groups and how groups create a unique sense of identity and belonging.
I don’t believe Lee was exploitative either. To be exploiting the members of the group she would have had to be morally or legally unethical or improper and I don’t see this photography work as fitting this definition. The subjects may have been uninformed or misled but not exploited. None of the images show anything of the subjects that are demeaning, belittling or otherwise damaging and are merely showing ‘as is’ which fuels my belief that Lee is not taking advantage of the groups.
Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?
Lee is commenting on how a person’s identity can be fluid and multi faceted. We are all ‘different’ in differing circumstances. We all adapt to different situations and behave appropriately depending on the circumstances. In this respect Lee is commenting on her own many identities; however she comments also on the group. Different groups (whether they are skateboarders, schoolgirls, seniors, punks, or tourists) are often recognisable with their own ‘look’. Lee is acknowledging this and the social codes that they adopt.
When I was thinking around Assignment 2 on ‘photographing the unseen’, I considered ‘masculinity’ and the social codes that men adopt but not women (putting their hands in hip pockets, sitting with legs crossed at the knee, etc) and having researched Lee, I now recognise that I was trying to represent the identity differences of that particular (male) group.
Lee transformed herself physically to blend in with different groups of people. By doing so, she is questioning the authenticity of the photograph and her own identity. She is also mixing fact with fiction and perhaps hinting that none of us are necessarily what we seem to be.
Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not?
For detail of Morrissey’s work please see my post here
If I was approached on the beach by someone wanting to swap places with me for a family photograph I hope I would say yes and allow a stranger to appear with my family for a public exhibition. However, I would want to know exactly what the project was for and where it would be seen and I would want to see the images first. There is an element of contradiction between wanting to embrace art and expression and wanting privacy. I am finding this with my own work as I progress through the course. On the one hand I want to engage with projects such as ‘putting yourself in the picture’ but there is a reluctance to be in the public view.
Morrissey uses self portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven Years and The Failed Realist. Look at these projects online and make notes.
Morrissey’s series Seven Years (2001-2004) has taken the concept of traditional family snapshots and staged them again copying the conventions of the genre. The staged images were taken from 2001 but the image titles refer back to the 1970s and 1980s, complete with retro clothing and props.
September 4th, 1972
Morrissey appears with her sister in all the images but they dress up and act the part of other relatives, male and female and themselves at different ages. Her identity is, like Lee’s, ‘fluid’. Like Morrissey’s other work (where she assumes a position within family groups on the beach) and the result is an authentic family photograph, in this series the images in ‘Seven Years’ have an authenticity but are actually similarly juxtaposing fact and fiction.
Morrissey was born in 1967 so would have been the baby in ‘April 16th 1967’. She and her sister are acting the parts of proud mother and father and a doll, presumably, is representing Morrissey as a baby. So in this image not only is Morrissey the photographer, she is one of the adult subjects (her parents) but her real status as a baby in 1967 is being represented by a doll. Her presence and identity is felt three times over in this image.
April 16th, 1967
Morrissey and her sister ‘assume different characters and roles in each image, utilizing body language to reveal the subtext of psychological tensions inherent in all family relations. The resulting photographs isolate telling moments in which the unconscious leaks out from behind the façade of the face and into the minute gestures of the body’. (Trishmorrissey.com, 2018)
When considering the doorstep image and body language I can see the dominant male stance of the man who is literally stepping from the domestic sphere of the home into the public sphere, leaving mother at home with the baby. As stated above we can see the ‘subtext’ and dynamics here of these family relations.
The Failed Realist
In her artist statement, Morrissey says that ‘between the ages of four to six children are often more verbally than visually articulate. This means that what they wish to express through mark making is often beyond their physical skill. The psychologist Georges-Henri Luquet (1927/2001) called this The Failed Realist stage – the child’s desire to represent his or her world is hampered by motor, cognitive and graphic obstacles that will be overcome with time, but for the moment, their interpretation is flawed. (Trishmorrissey.com, 2018)
I understand that the above means that children know what they want to express but are not yet able to do so.
Morrissey’s daughter, when aged about five, painted her mother’s face. Take the tooth fairy for example. The child has seen the fairy and knows what she looks like but hasn’t the skills to articulate it through drawing. An older child may respond with an image like this one below but a five year old hasn’t the motor skills or dexterity.
and so responds like this:
Image by Trish Morrissey
The Toothfairy (2011)
I think Morrissey is commenting on how a child can create an identity from an experience even if it is not realistic. To the girl her mother probably actually ‘became’ the tooth fairy for a while. Maybe the little girl took note of the colours, perhaps the white of the fairy’s dress and the yellow of her wand and red shoes and is expressing what she saw through her colour choice. The Ladybird (2011) shows evidence of this with the red and black. Bitzer (2011) is also portrayed in this way, as yellow and black.
I am reminded here of a child drawing a picture of a space ship and being convinced that it is a spaceship, even when it looks like a squiggle to you and me.
In this interview, Morrissey says that her idea for The Failed Realist was borne out of necessity. Her baby was sick so she was staying in or around the house. It was a Sunday afternoon in a corner of the living room and she was face painting with her little girl and it became a game. Other ideas come from ‘just being’ and ‘people watching’.
Trish Morrissey interviewed by Richard West, 2012
Trishmorrissey.com. (2018). Trish Morrissey. [online] Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-tfr/statement.html [Accessed 1 Jan. 2018].