Among a list of the 10 best self-portraits as chosen by a prominent critic in 2013 is ‘Hayley Coles, June 17th, 2006’ by Trish Morrissey (see fig.1.). The explanation for its inclusion in the list reads:
For her series Front (2005-2007), Morrissey travelled to various beaches in the UK and around Melbourne, looking for family groups. She then asked if she could take the place of one of the female family members, borrow her clothes and be photographed – by the woman she had replaced. Morrissey’s photographs are distilled performances that ask all sorts of questions about the role of sitter and photographer, the role of photography in creating fixed ideas of family, and the nature of the self-portrait when pushed beyond its usual boundaries (O’Hagan, 2013).
Morrissey says of her series:
Front deals with the notion of borders, boundaries and the edge, using the family group and the beach setting as metaphors. I approached families and groups of friends who had made temporary encampments, or marked out territories and asked if I could be part of their family temporarily. These highly performative photographs are shaped by chance encounters with strangers and by what happens when physical and psychological boundaries are crossed. Ideas around the mythological creature the “shape shifter” and the cuckoo are evoked (Bright, 2010: 209)
Other images from the series are shown in Figures 2 – 4 (Morrissey, s.d) Question: Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not? Whether I would agree or not would depend on the approach that Morrissey made. For example, if approached by a stranger with a point-and-shoot camera who wanted to place themselves in a family group (replacing one member, swapping cloths), I would likely refuse the request. However, in Morrissey’s practice she:
switches places with a woman in each group, posing as the woman she replaces, who in turn takes the photograph using a large plate camera that Morrissey has carefully set up beforehand (Bright, 2010: 209).
In this case the ‘large plate camera’ that she carefully sets up would make me want to participate in what is a performance, something with an element of harmless theatre, and orchestrated by someone, an artist, of obvious serious intent (as indicated for example by the large plate camera). However, if Morrissey approached saying how she wanted our (my family’s) cooperation in making some “highly performative photographs” shaped by chance encounters with strangers and by “what happens when physical and psychological boundaries are crossed”, and which evoked ideas “around the mythological creature the “shape shifter” and the cuckoo” (see quotes from Morrissey above), then I would likely refuse. However, if after such an approach I did agreed to participate it is unlikely that the resulting photograph would be in keeping with the photographs in the series. In the series the subjects appear relaxed even though there is an outsider among because they are being photographed by someone familiar — the woman Morrissey has replaced (Bright, 2010: 209). This relaxed atmosphere would be negated by the knowledge or analysis of what the photograph was ‘about’. Morrissey’s use of self-portraiture The title of the series ‘Seven Years’ (2001 – 2004) is based on difference in age between Morrissey and her elder sister. The artist statement accompanying the series states:
Morrissey functions as director, author and actor, staging herself and her sibling in tightly controlled, fictional mis en scene based on the conventions of family snapshots. (Morrissey, s.d a).
The series attempts to construct images that appear to be authentic family photographs from the 1970s and 1980s. Morrissey and her sister assume different characters and roles in each image so that:
body language to reveal the subtext of psychological tensions inherent in all family relations. The resulting photographs isolate telling moments in which the unconscious leaks out from behind the façade of the face and into the minute gestures of the body (Morrissey, s.d a).
For example the image April 16th, 1984 (see fig. 5.) appears to be an authentic family photograph with all the ‘defects’ that implies – the subjects photographed while blinking, the disembodied hand at the edge of the frame. This same method is applied in other images of the series, for example Figure 6. The image ‘July 22nd 1972’ (see fig.7.) is one of a ‘telling moment in which the unconscious leaks out’ (above) in that the elder sister’s hand on the shoulder of the younger sister is one of restraint; the crouched pose implies pent up energy awaiting release; in turn the restraint of the animal accentuates the sense of something pent up awaiting or yearning for release.
Bright, Susan (2010) Autofocus. The self-portrait in contemporary photography. London: Thames & Hudson. Morrissey, Trish (s.d) Front [online] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-front/workpg-01.html (Accessed on: 21.01.15)
Morrissey, Trish (s.d a) Seven Years [online] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-sy/statement.html (Accessed on: 21.01.15)
O’Hagan, Sean (2013) The 10 best … photographic self-portraits [online] At: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/mar/23/10-best-photographic-self-portraits (Accessed on: 21.01.15)
List of Illustrations Figure 1. Morrissey, Trish (2006) Hayley Coles, June 17th, 2006 At: http://i.guim.co.uk/static/w-620/h–/q-95/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pixies/2013/3/22/1363957873974/10-best—Trish-Morrissey-001.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)
Figure 2. Morrissey, Trish (2005) Sylvia Westbrook, August 2nd, 2005 [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/front-w/Sylvia-Westbrook.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)
Figure 3. Morrissey, Trish (2005) Chloe Gwynne, May 30th, 2005 [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/front-w/Chloe-Gwynne.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)
Figure 4. Morrissey, Trish (2005) Deborah Bestwick, August 14, 2005 [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/front-w/Deborah-Bastwick.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)
Figure 5. Morrissey, Trish (2005) April 16th, 1984 [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/seven-years-w/April-16th-1984.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)
Figure 6. Morrissey, Trish (2005) August 8th, 1982 [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/seven-years-w/August-8th-1982.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)
Figure 7. Morrissey, Trish (2005) July 22nd 1972 [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/seven-years-w/July-22nd-1972.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)