Concealing to Reveal

“I can tell by the way he will look lost and puzzled suddenly, all expression dying away from his face as though swept clean by an unseen hand, and in its place a mask will form, a sculptured thing, formal and cold, beautiful still but lifeless.”

After taking a number of new photographs for Tate’s ‘Street or Studio’ I ended up selecting some images taken last year, a self portrait and  an image from what was once called ‘The Catherine Cookson Festival’.

The self-portrait prompted a discussion with artists Topsy Grewlike (on Flickr), Pete Hindle ( on Flickr) and Pickersgill Reef (on Flickr). This is an excerpt of what I believe was the most interesting part of the conversation… to read the whole conversation click here.

Elizabeth: It [the photograph] isn’t flattering but I think it captures a side of me that is quite

important- I don’t think a photographic portrait can show a persons identity, thats too complex and ambitious. It’s quite a cerebral image, I think and feel it says a lot about the fact I have a big inner world that I am grateful and happy for having, I am creative and imaginative, driven by notions that are interesting rather than beautiful.

Topsy: One of the difficulties I have with photography, as an art form, is that it documents people, places and things but I am not sure how often it really gets much deeper than surface appearances. What you have said here Elizabeth is excellent and I admire the aspiration and to some extent I can see something of your “inner world” that you refer to but I think your “real art” ie drawings, collages etc reveal and communicate better than most “ordinary” photographs do.

Elizabeth: I have no difficulty with this paradox in photography, the idea that it reveals something. The notion of documentation and surface depth versus the idea that photography can somehow reveal some truth… I think lots of modern/contemporary photographers who write about and reflect on their work and photography in a broader sense acknowledge this.

I think in many ways photography is more subtle than drawing. You’re certainly right my drawings probably do show more of my inner world (or again what I want people to think of as my inner world through a process of selection) but a photograph shows a public persona which is the one most people get to see or interact with. Maybe at the end of the day this is who you actually are, your interactions with other people.

I think the subject definitely appears distant and in thought, engaged with their inner consciousness. But its true that they could be thinking what shall I have for tea, in fact I was probably thinking something like ‘don’t fall over’ as I get clumsy when tired. Now this photograph feels like a performance piece!

By the way did I mention that I hated photography because I hated the idea of having to learn a process/technique/skill to express something and that I was naff at it cos I have shakey hands due to my over excitable personality!!!

Topsy: I agree that now we don’t need understand how to use a dark room or even know very much about how to focus a camera has made photography a lot more appealing to me :)

I have worked with masks quite often because of how expressive they can allow people to be. By covering an individuals face they can reveal something of their inner world. I know that there is something paradoxical about covering to reveal but I think there is a truth in it.

The artist Christo, who wraps up buildings, can talk very eloquently about this paradox. He covers buildings so as to reveal them…

This conversation went on to inspire me to create new images based on masks. To see more visit my Flickr site

A selection of mask images
A selection of mask images

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