Lives of Others
Kate Hooper


Lives of Others is the first exhibition curated by Firecracker founder Fiona Rogers. It presents the work of five female photographers who have developed projects around personal situations and experiences.

 

With the use of the camera Laura Hynd explores bodily self esteem, working both alone and in collaboration with others. Throughout her childhood she had become increasingly insecure and self conscious about her body and the way people perceived her. The photographs of body details are largely unidentifiable, but even the images of the full body turn away from the camera as though Hynd can't bring herself to face the viewer full on. The exception is a more formal portrait in which she sits in an elegant gold dress on a sofa confidently looking out towards us. Many of the resulting images are self portraits though more often than not involving just small sections of her body. Mostly blurred or dark and almost imperceptible, they have a painterly quality about them. They are interspersed with other poignant subject matter; the remains of a run-over black cat, a mysterious stormy sky speckled with black birds, a long dark corridor that comes out into the light.

The images are presented within small gold edged frames like little icons butting up against one another. Their size gives them a precious quality but they also successfully evoke a mood of self doubt and anxiety.

 

Both Briony Campbell and Celine Marchbank have explored the extremely painful trauma of living through the terminal illness and death of one of their parents and use the medium of photography to articulate their emotions. The camera for both is a cathartic device, a means of coping with the ordeal facing them.

Celine Marchbank’s project ‘Tulip’ is far more than a documentary of her mother’s fight with cancer. She photographs the way the illness gradually impacts on her mother’s life: showing us images of stacks of medication boxes, of plates lined up outside her bedroom when she can no longer go downstairs to eat, of her radiation treatment, and the disappearance then re-growth of her hair and eye lashes. But she also interleaves these photographs with others that illustrate her mother's individuality; that she loved flowers, cats, vivid colours and stripes and had always filled the house with them and it is to this subject matter that Celine turns her attention. Brightly coloured flowers fill many frames at different stages in their life cycle, others include half empty tea cups - her mum didn’t want tea but would accept half a cup rather than say no - and her ever present special ginger cat, Frank.

Handwritten tags attached to framed photos in the exhibition are an important part of the project. Celine would write down her thoughts in response to her pictures immediately after downloading them, such as ‘Mum loves stripes, they are all over the house. Even the bloody cat is stripey.’ Others are painful reminders of the ordeal she is going though. The tag next to a picture of a row of green tomatoes dated the day before her mother’s death reads ‘Today I looked at the tomatoes we planted together and wondered will she ever see them ripen’

 

Having experienced the role of ‘the other woman’ in an extra-marital affair Natasha Caruana has created a series of staged tableaux that have evolved from the experiences of 80 women who have similarly had such affairs. Strange comedies are enacted as ineptly concealed female bodies protrude from the edges of household furniture or shop fronts - it is expected that these women should attempt to hide their identity as their lives revolve around secrecy and lies. Natasha’s satirical photographs cleverly mimic the painful absurdity that arises when your very presence becomes problematic.

 

Leonie Hampton has created a long term body of work using the camera as a therapeutic tool to help her mother deal with her chronic obsession with hoarding. Leonie is completely immersed within the project, spending months psychologically persuading and physically helping her mother de-clutter the home.

The images possess a strange and beautiful quality about them where light seems choreographed to give a striking Twilight Zone feel. There is a lovely photograph of her mother, bathed in a pool of bright sparkling light, dancing around the garden with arms outstretched. In contrast another image shows her head in hands full of despair framed by the dazzling light from a nearby window. In another frame a drop of red liquid is suspended in mid air as it falls from her brother's mouth. Again and again Leonie's camera finds resonances within unassuming situations.

 

Briony Campbell’s Dad Project was made with the full commitment of her father as he faced the devastating pain of terminal cancer. He always wanted to live life in the most positive way and Briony has written that ‘by doing The Dad Project we could look at the half-full-glass together’.

The photographs observe her father either on his own or with her and other members of the family. In one haunting image we see Briony sitting at the end of her father’s bed eating up his untouched food as he lies beside her too weak to eat.

‘Family Portrait’ displays classic decisive moment awareness; her father with back to the camera holds his hands out like a fan, her brother looks towards him with his own fan-shaped hand resting on his waist and there in the window is a reflection of Briony's own hands holding the camera and manoeuvring the lens.

A key sensitivity that she displays repeatedly is her feeling for light. She shows us the beauty of it sparkling through shimmering leaves, the peculiar glow in an empty milk bottle, and the glistening of clear adhesive tape used to collect her father’s fallen hair. She seems grateful for the comfort it brings, ‘today we knew he would die soon. I went outside and looked at the sky while we waited for the ambulance. It was perfectly beautiful’.

The most moving and also the most difficult photographs she could possibly take are the ones of her father during the moments immediately after his death. Hand in hand with her father she bravely clicks the shutter as the colour of life drains from his body.

 

(Lives of Others ended Jul 1st 2012)

 

Fiona Rogers is spearheading opportunities for women photographers in the field of documentary through her website Firecracker, and this debut exhibition gives us an insight into the ways different image-makers use their cameras to reflect personal issues. Universities and colleges of art are brimful with female students producing work of a very high standard but once they graduate they find that opportunities are few and far between. Fiona wants to help bridge that gap by presenting a platform for these photographers to exhibit and discuss their work over the net as well as in galleries.

In parallel to the Lives of Others exhibition Fiona announced a photographic grant that will provide funding for a female photographer to complete a documentary photographic project in 2013. Funds are being raised for the grant through sales of a 2012 diary illustrated with images taken by photographers featured on Firecracker during the last year. More information about the grant and how to purchase a diary can be found at Firecracker.