Question: What is the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?
The subject of Brotherus’s ‘Annunciation’ is the self, and infertility (her long series of failed IVF treatments). A consequence of treating with these subjects is an engagement with her body. Like most people, Brotherus was likely, prior to her experience of infertility, to have felt herself as embodied, that is as constituting a single whole comprised of mind and body. However, with the failure to conceive a child, the body, and its failure, can be perceived as something separate. For example, the image of Brotherus sitting naked and alone on a chair (see fig. 1.) is ‘just her body’, something that has failed to do what was expected of it.
Nakedness also conveys a sense of intimacy, conveying the depth of feeling and vulnerability evoked by the ongoing trauma of childlessness.
Question: Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text?
Yes, certainly in the case of Brotherus’s ‘Annunciation’ series there are enough visual clues to enable the attentive viewer to appreciate the artist’s intension (for example the presence of pregnancy test sticks in many of the images). Brotherus herself has stated that all she wants to impart to the viewer is containing within the images:
I’m showing this series of photographs to give a visibility to those whose treatments lead nowhere. The hopeless story with an unhappy end is the story of the majority. My way of discussing the matter is to give out the pictures, not to give an interview. I’m not sure if I will be able to actually speak about this. I’m still too sad (Brotherus, 2013).
With some self-portraits however the rational of the work is not so obvious. For example the work of Peter Finnemore (see fig. 2.). Finnemore’s practice is introspective, ‘it is the world of imagination and play inside his head that will be the source of his photography’ (Durden, 2014: 380). An interpretation of the photograph shown in Figure 2 states:
the artist is shown in military fatigues holding onto the roof of his camouflaged shed, implying a desperate measure to hide against some unspecified, outside threat (Durden, 2014: 380).
The only way to explore further what such a threat might be, even if it is one only imagined, is if the photographer adds more by way of text.
Question: Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?
Yes, certainly Francesca Woodman’s images explore universal themes of the self and identity. For example the title alone of her photograph ‘Self-deceit #1 Rome, Italy’ (see fig. 3.) implies wider concerns. Equally Elina Brotherus’s work speaks to deep questions of self and identity – someone for example who is a mother and views ‘Annunciation’ might realise for the first time how strongly she has been inhabiting, almost unconsciously, her sense of self as a mother.
A related work is ‘Mother’ (2013) by Elinor Carucci (Bright, 2013). The many self-portraits of Carucci in the company of her children clearly seek to make accessible to the viewer wider themes by way of a visual exploration of one mother’s experience.
Gillian Wearing’s work ‘Album’ invites the viewer to examine their own identification with and relationship to their own family; it is almost impossible to view the work and not become aware of and engage with its universal theme of family and finding a place within it.
Brotherus, Elina (2013) Annonciation [online] At: http://slash-paris.com/en/evenements/elina-brotherus-annonciation (Accessed on: 19.01.15)
Durden, Paul (2014) Photography Today. New York: Phaidon
Bright, Susan (2013) The Most Intimate Dance: Elinor Carucci’s Photos of Motherhood At: http://lightbox.time.com/2013/09/30/the-most-intimate-dance-elinor-caruccis-photos-of-motherhood/#1 (Accessed on: 19.01.15)
List of Illustrations
Figure 1. Brotherus, Elina (2010) Annunication 4 At:http://i.guim.co.uk/static/w-620/h–/q-95/sys-images/Observer/Columnist/Columnists/2013/12/20/1387558234592/elina-001.jpg (Accessed on: 19.01.15)
Figure 2. Finnemore, Peter (2004) Koan Exercise At: http://www.ewaeckerle.com/files/gimgs/74_7-pfinnemore.jpg (Accessed on: 19.01.15)
Figure 3. Woodman, Francesca (1978) Self-deceit #1 Rome, Italy, 1978 [Silver print] At: http://i.guim.co.uk/static/w-700/h–/q-95/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2010/11/19/1290171517753/Self-deceit-1-004.jpg (Accessed on 19.01.15)