Monday 22 March 2021

Lockdown Leading Ladies

It started back in January when I watched the 1950 movie Sunset Boulevard. It's a film I've enjoyed before, but this time something about watching the character of Norma Desmond descend into madness all the time looking magnificent, while I, like the rest of the world struggled through a pandemic, really struck a chord with me. Her stunning expressive face and glamourous deterioration was so awe inspiring that the next free afternoon I had I was grabbed by the impulse to channel Norma and take some photos of myself.

I enjoyed the experience and the resulting pictures so much that the next week I watched another classic movie with a strong female lead, the 1947 hit 'Possessed' starring Joan Crawford. This film has Joan slowly losing her grip on reality through her obsession with a playboy architect who doesn't reciprocate her feelings. The film culminates in a 'did she, didn't she' murder, as hallucinations mix with the real world.

I've always loved the films of old Hollywood for their glamour and melodrama, but watching them now, particularly in 2021 during lockdown 3.0 my attention has been grabbed by how the female stars portrayed women on the edge, losing their minds with impossible glamour and endurance. While watching old movies has always given me comfort, these suffering powerful ladies are also giving me strength to face the current challenges around me and my god, I love them for it! This was the first time since lockdown started last year that I felt compelled to create something entirely for the joy of it.

I've since been playing around with the visual styling and language of these old movies to try and convey some of the various feelings of paranoia, isolation, threat and fear that Covid has installed in many of us over the past year, leaving many like me, stuck in a world of uncertainty and stagnation. There's a satisfying fit between the aesthetics of Film Noir and melodrama and these times of Covid; A constant feeling of threat, danger and psychological angst.

I began by channeling the stars of the films I have watched, not trying to look exactly like them, but to gently reference them through make up and styling, and try to pick up some of the pitch of their performances in my poses and lighting. I also have really enjoyed using black and white photography to create that otherworldly feel of old films that are so evocative and alluring, whilst completely of their own time.

As I started to explore ideas I tended to allude to general styles of the old Hollywood era instead of the actual stars. I also began to play with projecting images onto myself to layer narrative. I have never used myself as material in my own work, except for the odd painted self portrait (see the banner to this blog for instance), so photographing myself was and still is strange to me. It feels very immediate and open to use my own image this way.

I also began to experiment with video, just short trials to see how things looked like here where I projected Corona Virus cells over my face, purposely staying still like a paused film as the pandemic washed over me. It made me also think about how stuck in a moment we all are during this world event.

I watched the British 1940 film Gaslight which sees a wife begin to believe shes losing her senses through the mental manipulation of her husband, It's a fantastic film and gives a strong sense of outside influence invading ones mind. On the back of this I made a short clip about Hands, Face, Space and the unease and paranoia that was being felt as we went about our daily lives, using some of the film's soundtrack to perform to (sound on).

I am not overthinking any of my process, just making sure I enjoy making it and seeing what comes out. It's important to me now more than ever that I don't stress over the outcome, which is ironic when I am using the stress and anxiety myself and many others have experienced over the past year due to Covid as part of my inspiration.

In short I am enjoying using so many of the things I already love, like dressing up, (I'm trying out original 1940's and 50's setting patterns to set my hair into authentic waves and curls, which is an added boon as we can't visit hairdressers at the moment), glamour and camp, history and story telling to make work that is literally getting me through.The preparation is as much fun as the actual making of the work, though setting up my phone to exactly the right angel to avoid getting unwanted items in the shot can be stressy, especially when photographing mirrors (more of that to come in future posts!).
I'm not a technical person, so I like the simplicity of just grabbing my phone to experiment, clicking and creating an idea and a mood. It's all work in progress, but yes, Mr DeMille, I'm ready for my close up...