Friday, 20 January 2012

Self / Identity Publication

One thing that I had especially been looking forward to in my last year of study was that I had to create a publication / portfolio of my work over the past year which was to be submitted as part of the final assessment. I'm a perfectionist, I'm not ashamed to say. To be honest, I don't think I would be a true artist if I wasn't. And I also love books. A LOT. They're a slight obsession of mine so when the time came for me to make my own book.. well you can imagine that I was quite excited. There were so many options with what I could do; professionally bound, completely handmade, print it myself, get a printer to do it etc etc. I decided I wanted it to look as professional as I could, for a decent price (which wasn't the case in the end, but I'm still happy!) and also design it in a reasonably straight forward way. 
One of the girls in my class, Rachel suggested this online book publishing place called Blurb that offers a few different sized books and the option of hard or soft covers, ImageWrap covers or ones with a dust jacket, so I was sure that I would find something that suited the kind of book I wanted to make.
Anyway. I got onto choosing what I wanted and then had to teach myself how to use Adobe InDesign which was just so much fun! Blurb has a plugin for InDesign which has templates made up of the book pages, as well as the front and back covers so that made things a lot easier.
Then it was just a matter of choosing exactly what photos I wanted in the publication which was also easy, but the near impossible part was figuring out how I wanted the whole thing set out. Obviously I got there in the end..

So this is the version that I've kept for myself (the expensive one!) and Whitecliffe up in Auckland have got a version that I printed myself, with a card cover and not-so-glossy pages.
I was pretty stoked when this arrived in the mail, to say the least, but now I just want another excuse to design another book. I think I need to do a wee coarse is graphic design to get it out of my system..

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Bodies of Thought

Abbey Proctor, 2011, Bodies of thought [inkjet photographs, paper mounted in frame, dimensions variable]

This work brings into question the importance of physical appearance when identifying an individual, creating an emphasis on the core human self while questioning the validity of stereotyping.
The core self is an extremely fragile, yet strong thing that is present within each of us, a thing that is not a physical structure residing inside the body, but a composite entity that is a product of the thoughts and interactions between the mind and body. It is a construction of the mind, one that is strong and robust enough to withstand constant change and partial demolition and it is here, within this seemingly fragile, composite state that lies the strength of the self. A composite or a collection of things such as the self is able to have items come and go or be damaged without necessarily destroying the entity as a whole, enabling the constant functionality of us as human beings throughout life. It is this self that makes us who we are as individuals, enabling us to grow and become emotionally stronger, determining our personal identity, and making each of us distinguishable from the other. Although the physical, external body seems to define us, it is merely an external shell that embodies this self, it is the internal thought processes and interactions that are the essence of each individual; the body is essential to the functionality of these thoughts, but it does not define our essence.

This is my final installation. If you can imagine walking into a small room; the dictionary and plates are on the wall to the right of the door, the portraits of myself on the wall in front of you, a wall to the left consists of a big window and no photographs, and the wall behind the door is where the four portraits and text live.
I'm tied between explaining everything, why each piece is where it is, how each one relates to the other and just leaving this post where it is and letting whoever reads this put their own interpretation onto it. I know I've explained each individual work in previous posts, but I don't think I will explain everything in detail.
Hope you like it! 

Self / Identity

The theme of identity is one I find to be extremely personal and is something that has had significant influence over my life during the past five years. Art making is an outlet and way of expressing one’s inner self and ideas and it is because of this that identity has been the main drive behind the development of my photographic practice throughout my years of study. Specifically throughout this year, my practice has revolved around this broad theme of identity, focusing particularly on the idea of stereotyping and the psychological concept of schema, a concept that deals with the mind and the limited amount of information processed when making an identification of an individual (Bartlett, 1932, p. 208). The work has more recently evolved, resulting in an exploration into the idea of the human self being an extremely fragile thing that is somehow stronger due to this fragility and the ability it has to mend itself (Baggini, 2011, p. 39). My photographs tend to focus specifically on the physical identity of an individual; their clothing style, accessories they wear and body shape, and critique the way in which we as human beings perceive and categorize individuals within society based purely on such limited information. With primary reference to the concept of schema, my practice has largely consisted of photographic portraits of others. This has naturally evolved, leading to an experimentation with digital manipulation as well as manual collage, and has recently explored the art of still life photography. Throughout this extended artist statement I will provide detailed insight into three of my works’ that I believe can be seen as the most influential in terms of moving forward with my practice throughout this year. Untitled silhouette #5 (2011) is one of a series of a photographs that directly references the concept of schema and issue of stereotyping via the use of digital manipulation, while Triangle and dots (2011) comes from a series of photographic collage which references that same idea and Fragile robustness (2011) is just one photograph from a large series which conveys the idea of the fragile, yet strong nature of the human self through the use of still life photography.

Personal identity is something that everyone in society is consistently confronted with whether it is through the gaze of others including peers, strangers or the media, or if it is through an internal battle between the individual and what it is that they feel defines their own identity. Since an individual is highly likely to have a differing opinion on what it is that defines them physically, in comparison to the opinion of another individual, the definition of an individual’s personal identity can vastly differ depending on who is doing the observing. This act of observing and forming opinions of individual’s identity is something that every one of us does on a daily basis. We look, critique, form opinions of, and categorize every individual we come into contact with and we seem to do this so regularly that it is almost like it has become a part of human nature to do so. It is this act of categorization that is commonly known as stereotyping and refers to the concept called ‘schema’. In brief, schemas are organized collections of social information that the mind has gathered through past experience and stored away in the memory banks for recall at a later date (Pennington, 2000, p. 87). They allow the processing of information to occur quickly and easily, as the mind is able to reference information that is already present, rather than having to go back to a blank slate every time a new social situation or individual is encountered (2000, p. 69). In terms of making an identification of an individual, the mind pulls qualities from that person’s physical appearance such as their body shape or how they dress, and tries to match them with qualities of a person from a previous encounter. If the qualities pertaining to both individuals seem to match up, the mind informs us that this new person is the same as the previous person, however this is often incorrect and leads to false first impressions or stereotyping.

            My first series of works this year, which is called Untitled silhouettes (2011) directly references these ideas of schema and stereotyping by addressing what small amount of information about an individual is needed in order for the mind to form an opinion of that individual. The series consists of a number of portrait photographs of individual and the faces, including the subjects’ hair and neck, have then been blacked out by way of digital manipulation via Photoshop, only leaving visible the individual’s clothing and accessories they were wearing at the time of photographing. Through blacking out the faces, the facial features being the most unique aspects of a person, have been erased from the subject’s immediate physical identity and the viewer is left with minimal information in which to form an opinion of, and also categorize that individual. This effectively creates a situation between the viewer and photograph that is much the same as a first encounter with a new person, one that consists of a single glance or limited conversation. The fact that in this instance the encounter between the two individuals, viewer and subject, is created by way of photography, enables the viewer the chance to look deeper into the subjects’ physical appearance and apply more of their time when piecing together the information that is set in front of them. However, this also allows the viewer the opportunity to use his or her imagination when forming an identity of the subject, and it is due to this use of limited facts and / or imagination, therefore false information, being applied to an individual’s identity through false pretence, that the act of stereotyping arises.

Abbey Proctor, 2011, Untitled silhouette #5 [digital photograph, dimensions variable].

The use of the photographic medium to explore the ideas of observation and categorization has resulted in the capture of a single moment of the subject’s life, freezing their identity and displaying them as they appeared in that one moment. By capturing this on camera I have in a way emulated the process of stereotyping an individual; one encounter or one single glance is generally all it takes for someone to form an opinion of another individual and place them into a category that is not necessarily correct. By emulating this situation, I have brought to light the issue of stereotyping and made the viewer aware of how it is they see others within society.

In much the same way as the images featured in the Untitled silhouettes series, my series of collages, including Triangle and dots (2011) enable the viewer to use his or her imagination in aid of achieving an understanding of the identities within the image. Due to an absence of information pertaining to each specific subject, the viewer is able to fill in the gaps of each identity by applying their own opinion and imagery to the already present information in the photograph. It is my belief that the act of identifying an individual is similar to the act of completing a jigsaw puzzle in the way that different aspects and details are brought together to form one ordered entity that is able to be seen and understood as a whole.

Abbey Proctor, 2011, Triangle and dots [digital photograph of scanned photographic collage, 20.3 cm x 30.5 cm].

With this idea in mind I constructed the collages through the use of manual acts such as cutting, layering and pasting, applying these processes to two images and overlaying them in such a way that often resulted in a slightly eerie, mismatched final product, somewhat resembling a completed jigsaw puzzle. Within the image Triangle and dots, the two separate portraits have been overlayed in such a specific and thought about way, with the intention of the final image being to contradict that belief of an ordered and understood entity, and to create confusion about the physical identity of each of the subjects. The way in which the portraits have been placed together has resulted in an apparent fusing together of the two identities, which seems to form one entity but at the same time each individual photograph still has the ability to be seen as separate from one another. This fusion is a result of the subtle matching up of specific facial features within the image as a whole; the nose in each of the portraits is perfectly in line with the other, and the jaw line and outline of the women’s faces appear at a glance to also line up perfectly, appearing to be a part of one person. Adding emphasis to the merging of the two portraits is also the absence of information within each individual image. The overlaying image has been cut in such a way that removes the upper half of the women’s face, therefore removing the lower half of the bottom image which results in neither face being able to be seen in it’s entirety.

As important facial features have been removed from each portrait, the natural solution for the viewer when trying to piece together a complete image would be to substitute the missing aspects of each face with the features that are already present within the image, even though it is obvious that they do not belong as one. It is through this substitution or application of foreign information onto the other subject’s appearance and the fact that each woman’s face is only available through partial view, that my collages and this image in particular, address the concept of schema. The fractured information of each individual that is present within the final image emulates the limited amount of information that is gathered through a brief glance at a stranger or passerby and as a whole, the image can be seen as an accurate visual representation of the schema concept; the viewer is able to see and understand only glimpses of each individual and as this is the only information available, the viewer has no option but to apply that information to the other image, creating a totally new and inaccurate identity.

Although my practice this year has primarily revolved around the concept of schema and the photographic portrait, my work has recently evolved into something quite different as I have been drawn towards still life imagery and the idea of the core self; more specifically the fragile nature of that self. It is my belief that the self is not defined by any physical aspect but is a product of the mind, defined by the morals, ideals, core beliefs and personality traits that are able to be identified as unique to a specific individual. Although these ideals etc. are highly likely to be the same as another individual’s, I believe it is the combination and strength of these different traits and beliefs that come together to define an individual in a unique way; a person may be a genuinely, incredibly kind and gentle individual, who likes heavy metal music, however the kindness and gentle nature will be what defines them and will always be present within their core self; interests, likes and dislikes can change but they are not defining enough to dramatically change the self of an individual. It is possible for an individual to change however. We are able to be broken, damaged and grow as individuals due to challenging or rewarding personal experience, however we do not change into a completely new person (Baggini, 2011, p. 21), we are still able to fully function as a whole. It has been said that the self can be compared to a composite or amalgam, a collection of things where “items can come and go, or be damaged, without necessarily terminally destroying the character of the whole” (2011, p. 39). Whereas if the self was a singular entity, physical or not, such damage would not allow us to continue to function whilst mending ourselves. It is this fragility and the seemingly robustness of the core self that has lead me to produce the final series of works’ I discuss.

Fragile robustness (2011) consists of still life images, each comprising of a single, ceramic object that could be classed as ‘everyday’: plates, mugs, an urn and a vase. These objects have been chosen for their breakable qualities, because although they are strong and able to withstand everyday use, they are also incredibly vulnerable as they have the ability to be easily broken. Within the series, the vulnerability of each object has been played upon, each being purposefully shattered but with the intention of being pieced back together. By breaking these objects, there is a loss of control as to how it is that they will be damaged, whether they will break perfectly in half, or if they will shatter into numerous tiny pieces, which in turn gives me no control over how they will be pieced together in the end. The final product of each object is one of slightly damaged, individual pieces glued back together in the best way possible, some have been totally removed as they do not fit or function well within the entity anymore, but the pieces that have been reassembled are still not perfect.

Abbey Proctor, 2011, Fragile robustness I [digital photograph, dimensions variable].

It is through this mismatched and somewhat messy piecing together that I have addressed the idea of the core self. The ceramic objects have been broken in such spontaneous and harsh ways, yet they have still managed to be mended no matter how many missing pieces there may be and, to an extent are able to fully function as their original form, much the same as humans when our core selves have been broken or hurt.

            In conclusion the extremely broad theme of identity that has been the basis throughout my body of work this year, has been addressed through aid of varying photographic techniques and styles, mirroring the broadness of the issues and ideas placed within this theme. The work has primarily addressed the social issue of stereotyping with specific reference to the psychological theory of schema, as per Bartlett (1932). Through use of the manipulated photographic portrait and removal of telltale facial features, these works have focused on the limited amount of information that is needed for the mind to form an opinion of and categorize an individual, bringing to light the ease of which stereotyping takes place. The natural evolution of the work throughout the year has resulted in the exploration of the idea of the human self, more specifically with reference to Baggini (2011) and the theory of a fragile yet strong inner self. Through the use of crisp, structured still life photographs portraying broken, yet mended and therefore strong objects, the images have put on display a metaphorical inner self, addressing the fragile nature of that self, while also emphasizing the force of it’s strength. My work as a whole seeks to address the personal and broad idea of identity, giving insight into the core self while bringing to light the issue of stereotyping.


Baggini, J. (2011). The ego trick: what does it mean to be you? London, England: Granta Books.

Bartlett, F. C. (1932). Remembering: a study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Coetzee, M. (2007). John Stezaker: Rubell family collection. Quito, Ecuador: Imprenta Mariscal.

Giolla Leith, C. M. (2007). Marriage. London, England: Ridinghouse.

Giolla Leith, C. M. (2008). Masks. London, England: Ridinghouse.

Jenkins, R. (2004). Social identity. London, England: Routledge.

Pennington, D. C. (2000). Social cognition. London, England: Routledge.

Wilson, M. (2009). John Stezaker: Friedrich Petzel Gallery. Art Forum International, 47, 9.

Stereotypical Insight

This series is the most recent that I've been working on and is also part of my final assessment / exhibition that will take place sometime next year (yay!). 
When I was first planning what I was going to show for the final assessment, this idea came to mind and my very first intention was to only show a large series of works like these. Although after a critique with my Whitecliffe tutor, it was decided that my plates and the concept behind them was quite strong and they needed to be a part of my final assessment. That was totally fine by me because I'm kind of in love with the physical plates and the photographs of them (which are now a little different to the ones in the link above, but I'll upload the final images of those later) but it meant that I had to rethink my final show. A lot as it turned out. In the end there were a few different components (which again, I'll upload later) and this series was the last one; visually it was the last work seen within the space when everything was hung and conceptually it tied everything together.
As with everything else I've been working on this year this work addresses stereotyping, although I think these may do it in a more literal way than the rest of the work in the final show. The idea behind these came directly from the physical act of stereotyping. My intention was to emulate a first conversation and first encounter with someone new, and bring to light stereotyping by making the viewer aware of the thoughts and opinions that would come to mind when looking at the images and reading the text.

While photographing, I recorded the conversation had between my subjects and myself. I did this without them knowing at first, so they wouldn't be as self conscious about what they were saying as they would be if they were aware they were being recorded. Obviously they were already pretty self conscious since they were having a conversation with someone while a camera was pointing straight at them, but I was sure they would feel worse if they knew beforehand that I was going to be typing up our conversation. 
I told them that I was going to be photographing them, that my project was about stereotyping and I wanted them to be as comfortable as they could be, hence the reason for the constant conversation. Being a little shy myself, I struggled talking to most of the people I photographed so at first it was a bit of a mess of me trying to relax and just be myself while trying to make sure my subjects were relaxed and being themselves so the typed conversation was as close to what they would normally say as possible. 

Abbey Proctor, 2011, Stereotypical insight [digital photographs, typed text]

These works', when shown with the rest of my final work make it easier for the viewer to relate to the work as a whole. The other works' more directly address myself and my leukaemia, so having images of other people in the show opens the viewers eyes and helps them to incorporate themselves in the work and think about themselves in terms of stereotyping. As my tutor said in my end of year review "people like thinking about themselves, so why not help them?".

Thursday, 24 November 2011

External Identity Crisis

As said repeatedly I'm sure, my work this year has been a result of my experience with leukaemia and the reactions from strangers I received when I was going through treatment. However, this series is the only one that directly references my illness. It's the result of the wee research project I did I while ago where I got students from my art school to write their opinions and reactions on a few portraits of myself I'd taken when I had just finished treatment but still had no hair. I absolutely loved the words that they had written on the photographs, but fell even more in love with them when I started playing around with how I was going to display them. I really wanted to cut into an actual dictionary and display the pages in the way that I have below, but books are my obsession and I just couldn't bring myself to cut into one, especially a dictionary! So I compromised. This framed 'dictionary', as I like to call it, is put together with photocopied pages of a dictionary I found in the cupboard. If I remember rightly, there are 13 or 14 pages. With each one I cut everything out of the page, except for the word that was written on the portrait, leaving in the columns and page numbers etc. 
I placed the pages on top of each other without really paying attention to which definition was where, with the exception being if one was completely hidden behind another; the result of which is actually quite interesting! One section in particular that I really like is where 'healthy' and 'cancer' are overlapping. Just that small thing explains exactly what I was trying to achieve with this work. Having the pages on top of one another and then placed within the confines of a frame is my way of bringing the opinions together, creating one entity and showing how these often contradicting opinions are about  one person. I'm not sure how the viewer would interpret the dictionary if it was displayed by itself, but when paired with the two portraits below, the meaning is more obvious.

Stereotyping / Identity

The theme of identity is one that we as human beings are consistently confronted with on a daily basis and it is this reason, the fact that it is something that we have all encountered and have personal experience with, that it is so commonly addressed within the art world whether it be through the painting medium or photography. Identity is an extremely broad subject, one of which I have addressed in different ways throughout my photographic practice over the years. During my research for this assignment I have come across many different photographers who also address this theme in their work, two are Cindy Sherman (b.1954) and John Stezaker (b.1949). Within this essay I give a brief explanation of the psychology behind identity, more specifically first impressions and stereotypes, as written by British psychologist Donald C. Pennington in his book Social Cognition (2000)
. I also discuss the main artists I have used as inspiration for this assignment and the specific aspects of their work that has had the most influence in creating this body of work.

In my opinion it is impossible to imagine human society in a world without knowledge of who others are and without a sense of who we are as individuals. I also think that questioning, developing, struggling with or trying to stay comfortable within an individual identity, is quite possibly an internal battle everyone goes through each day. Society is asked to speak, dress, walk and act in specific ways in order to be accepted and sometimes just to be acknowledged and because of this we are constantly under scrutiny by peers, strangers and the media. When meeting a stranger for the first time, one of the first things we do is attempt to identify them (Zerubavel as cited in Jenkins, 2004, p. 6). The information relied upon to make this identification includes the clothes worn and language spoken by this stranger, as well as information from third parties (2004, p. 6). This often leads to a negative or false first impression being established due to the opinion consisting of points of view from two different parties. This first piece of information received, or the first opinion formed about another person, has greater effect on the overall opinion of that person rather than new, and possibly more truthful information that is received at a later date (Pennington, 2000, p. 77). This is often how false first impressions arise and how the stereotyping of individuals usually comes about. We as a society, try and work out all that is possible about a stranger just by looking at them but at the same time, try to present ourselves in such a way so that others will see us in a way that we want them to. Identity is constantly talked about; whether it be through compliments, talking about outfits, talking about other people; how these people dress, where they work and who they are friends with. Identity is most likely one of the most talked about topics of conversation in the world, even if the word ‘identity’ is not always used (Jenkins, 2004, p. 6). It is human nature to have an opinion, but the scrutinising of someone else’s identity along with being scrutinised ourselves, is something that is in my opinion, quite often inescapable. This application of opinions and ideas that are used to create a description of someone’s identity is often where false and negative first impressions, as well as stereotyping arise.

The term ‘stereotype’ is linked with social perception when dealing with social psychology (Pennington, 2000, p. 62). Social perception emphasizes the importance of first impressions, whether they are made purely from our own opinion or that of others and can be loosely defined as “the process through which we seek to know and understand other persons” (Baron & Byrne as cited in Pennington, 2000, p. 62). This process of trying to achieve an understanding of an individual’s identity involves a concept called ‘schema’ (Bartlett, 1932, p. 208). Within this concept are sub-concepts, one of which is the social schema. Social schemas are structured collections of information gathered from past experiences that are then stored in the mind’s memory banks for later recall (Pennington, 2000, p. 87). They provide a simple overview of information about the social world and aid the mind in easily categorising new information rather than having to fill a blank slate every time a different social situation is encountered (2000, p. 69). Schemas allow the processing of information about different social scenarios to occur quickly and easily as well as have influence over which information is remembered about specific social situations at any one time (p. 70). However, the information gathered about one social group may have a high chance of differing from the next. This information is used, as well as information from previous similar encounters to form an identity and understanding of this second group, which in turn could result in the identification of this group being false. An understanding of an individual is achieved in this way also. A limited amount of information is usually used which could result in unique characteristics being ignored, and the assumption that the person holds personality traits of a generalized member of society, being made.

The issue of stereotyping is one that is quite commonly addressed within the contemporary art world and more often than not, this issue refers more directly to feminism and/or racism. Although my work refers to neither of these issues and deals with the more generalized identity of society, I have found that artists that address these issues have been extremely helpful both contextually and aesthetically when researching information for this topic. One that has been particular helpful is American photographer Cindy Sherman. Sherman is one of the most influential artists of the past twenty-five years who deals with the issue of identity and feminism, so influential that she is now classed, not as a photographer but an artist as her work has merged into the category of contemporary art (Schroeder, 2002, p. 57.). Sherman is most famous for her series of Untitled Film Stills, 1979-1980 (Childs, 2006, pp. 87 & 91). The series consists of sixty-nine black and white photographs, all of which the artist herself is the main and almost always, the only subject within the frame. Within each photograph Sherman takes on the identity of an imaginary character that resembles a woman who would have featured in a 1950s film noir or B movie (2006, p. 87). Each character is defined by the roles and stereotypes women are placed into within society and “explore the ways in which women are represented in popular culture” (p. 87).

The vast array of stereotypical identities occupying this series of images ranges from the film star to the housewife, the young starlet to the lost adolescent. The photograph called Untitled Film Still #35, (1979) sees Sherman clothed in a short sleeved dress and a pinafore that could suggest that she is portraying a maid working in an upper-class household. However her surroundings, an old, slightly run-down looking door, may tell the viewer otherwise.

Cindy Sherman, 1979. Untitled film still #35  [silver-gelatin print]. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.

Due to this small detail it could be assumed that this is in fact her own house and that she is perhaps a hard-working, doting housewife. Her stance, leaning on one leg, hand on her hip and glancing over her shoulder, gives the impression that the viewer is in her territory but also that there is someone else positioned behind the camera, as her gaze is resting a little above, and to the right of where the camera lens would be situated. This gaze does not look friendly and it seems as though she is not happy that this person is in her home. The woman’s stance, although suggesting that it is her space the viewer is intruding on, also seems as though she has been interrupted or caught out, as though this unfriendly look on her face was not meant to be seen by others. When piecing together the narrative for this photograph, the presence of the coat and scarf in the left section of the photograph, together with the stance and facial expression of the woman, could suggest that the look she is casting across the room is directed at a masculine figure that has possibly demanded that she hang these items of his clothing up while he carry on relaxing after a stressful day at work. The overall identity that could be brought to light using this image is that the woman present is a lower-class housewife. She seems to be a doting wife to her demanding husband, but also despises him due to his demanding ways. The subtle detail of the woman’s polished shoes gives the impression that she is proud of herself and her home, no matter what her social class may be.

Cindy Sherman, 1978. Untitled film still #13  [silver-gelatin print]. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.

Cindy Sherman, 1979. Untitled film still #48  [silver-gelatin print]. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.

This, along with other film stills such as Untitled Film Still #13, (Sherman, 1978) and Untitled Film Still #48, (Sherman, 1979) are perfect examples of how the identity of an individual is able to be established even when the smallest amount of information is available. It is this aspect of Sherman’s work that I am incredibly interested in and have brought into my own studio practice this year. Although I do not feature in my images nor do my subjects disguise their identity using costume, I have carried the idea of establishing an identity with limited information into my work by digitally removing the subject’s face, leaving only their clothes and silhouetted face for the viewer to gather information from. The nameless subjects featuring throughout Sherman’s complete series of Untitled Film Stills are given identities based purely on their clothing, surroundings and facial expressions at the moment the photograph is taken, therefore becoming whatever the viewer deems them to be (Childs, 2006, p. 89). This identity is not constructed by their unique personality traits and mannerisms, only by these generalized and limited details.

British born artist John Stezaker is an artist I have recently discovered who has been incredibly helpful when researching information to aid in developing my body of work. Although he is not an artist who deals directly with the issue of identity, the aesthetic qualities and concepts are something that will have great influence over my work in the very near future. Stezaker is a conceptual artist who fits into the category of surrealism, and has been a central influence in a number of developments and movements within the art world over the past thirty years, including Conceptual Art and New Image Art, right through to contemporary collage (Wilson, 2009, p. 235). This interest in the conceptual and aesthetic aspects of collage has merged with the long-term fascination he has with ‘the image’ and has resulted in “finding new aesthetic allegiances with the image through working with found photographs and printed matter” (Giolla Leith, 2008). As his work particularly concentrates on the portrait, using found photographs generally consisting of salvaged film stills and studio publicity shots from the 1950s (Darwent, 2011). Using these images, Stezaker manually cuts and pastes to create completely new images that toy with our subconscious and dabble in the surreal, even if it is achieved only through cutting portraits down the middle and pairing them with another (Stills, 2007). It is this straightforward technique, which enables the concept and the visual aspects of his work to be so strong (Wilson, 2009).

One such strong series of works, in which Stezaker came to master the process of selection and representation (Wilson, 2009), consists of several images under the name ‘Marriage’; Marriage IV (2006), Marriage VIII (2006) etc. The series concentrates particularly on the portrait and plays with the fascination human society has with the face (Still, 2007). This combined with Stezaker’s interest in the concept of the image, has lead to him deleting and altering different aspects of images, resulting both in visual harmonies and juxtapositions occurring within one work (Giolla Leith, 2007).

John Stezaker, 2006. Marriage VIII  [collage]. Saatchi Gallery, London.

The image titled, Marriage VIII consists of two photographs from the 1950s, both black and white studio publicity shots, one seems to always be a man and the other always seems to be a woman. One photograph, in this case, the image of the man is cut diagonally across through the middle of the face and stuck on top of the portrait of the woman. For most of the images in the series, Stezaker leaves the edges of each portrait in tact, not trimming either image in an attempt to blend the two together and structurally make them seem as one (Wilson, 2009). This decision adds to the uncanny nature of his images as it makes it all the more obvious that something has been changed. However, the way in which Stezaker positions these photographs when they are stuck together, makes them seem like the portrait is in fact of one person. They are positioned so that the main features of each subject line up completely thus merging the two portraits into one. The viewer is quite possibly left with a sense of unease because of this; the man can too easily be seen as beautiful and feminine, while the woman seems strong and masculine, therefore blurring the line that divides their own identity and to an extent, their gender.

In conclusion, although the visual aspects of the work produced by the two artists mentioned in this essay vastly differ, the theme of identity is also so vast that it makes it possible for both Cindy Sherman and John Stezaker to be highly influential towards the same body of work. The instantaneous first impressions and stereotypes brought to light through one glance at the women who feature in Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, is something that occurs everyday in society and I have been interested in this idea for a long time when dealing with my photography. The manual way in which Stezaker constructs new images by using two different photographs and blurring the identity between two subjects is a technique that I have recently become extremely interested in. Overall, I have found the ideas and visual concepts behind these artists’ work to be extremely helpful and influential towards creating and researching information for the body of work I am working on this year.


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Childs, P. (2006). Contemporary cultural texts and critical approaches. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press.

Darwent, C. (2011). John Stezaker. London, England: Independent UK.

Giolla Leith, C. M. (2008). Masks. London, England: Ridinghouse.

Giolla Leith, C. M. (2007). Marriage. London, England: Ridinghouse.

Jenkins, R. (2004). Social identity. London, England: Routledge.

Pennington, D. C. (2000). Social cognition. London, England: Routledge.

Schroeder, J. E. (2002). Visual consumption. London, England: Routledge.

Sherman, C. (1978). Untitled film still #13 [Photograph] Retrieved from http://masters-of

Sherman, C. (1979). Untitled film still #35 [Photograph] Retrieved from

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Stezaker, J. (2006). Marriage IV [Photograph] Retrieved from

Stezaker, J. (2006). Marriage VIII [Photograph] Retrieved from

Wilson, M. (2009). John Stezaker: Friedrich Petzel Gallery. Art Forum International, 47, 9.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Portraits without a face, take two

Today I finally started working on an idea that I started playing around with, way back in February when I was in Auckland for the first week of study; Portraits without a face. Ever since then I've been meaning to expand on that idea and use more than one item of the individuals belongings so the photograph creates a slightly more detailed picture of what the person might be like.
I've decided 5 is a good number. I prefer odd numbers (even though even numbers are somehow prettier..) and I think 5 items might even be easier to set out aesthetically speaking, on the still life table I've borrowed from my wee lovely Daegan. So, I've asked people to give me 5 items that belong to them, items that they think define them. Whether they be some of their favourite things, things that are dear to their hearts or things that represent their hobbies etc.
Here's my first attempt: two slightly differing set ups of the same items.

Abbey Proctor, 2011, Anon I [digital photograph]

Abbey Proctor, 2011, Anon I [digital photograph]

I quite like these aesthetically, but because I know the person whose belongings these are, I can't really tell if the idea is working how I want it to. I would really appreciate some feedback about these; whether they're working, what you take from the items in terms of the individual etc.