Research Hannah Starkey’s ‘Untitled’ series and Charley Murrell’s ‘Constructed Childhoods’ project. How do these photographers employ imaginative/performative elements to construct their narratives? In what sense is the end result ‘real’? What aspects of their work might you consider adopting in your own practice?
Hannah Starkey: ‘Untitled’ series
Hannah Starkey creates highly preconceived tableau photographs which recreate ordinary, everyday events in such a way that they could be mistaken for documentary photographs. The staging of the scenes she photographs suggest familiar scenes, but, the subtle dramas she shows also possess a fantastical edge from which there are multiple possible narrative readings. She frequently explores gender themes and concerns about representations of women within contemporary urban culture and there is often a stillness in the pictures which emphasises the implied narratives as the protagonists appear isolated in their own thoughts. Badger (2001) likens the work to the paintings of Edward Hopper in that they share a “measured tension” through their respective documentary fictions. Cotton (2014: 60) states that the familiar scenes Starkey are filled with imaginative potential: “subtle photographic dramas with a fantastical edge.”
It could be speculated that Starkey is driven to stage her photographic narratives as this allows control and eliminates chance. I find her work convincing in its depiction of reality and if anything, this is increased with the knowledge that they are staged rather than diminished – small details become potentially significant and the work rewards consideration of possible meanings. The themes she pursues are clearly personal to Starkey too which I believe can be sensed, also, further layers are added when viewing images together even though they are not directly connected in terms of narrative. I find the subtlety and understated nature far preferable to the overblown work of Gregory Crewdson which are all about drawing attention to artifice rather than enabling the viewer to identify with what they are viewing.
Unlike Starkey, the strength of whose work rests in the believability of the imagery and scenarios presented, Charley Murrell’s ‘Constructed Childhoods’ project appears to draw attention to the artificial nature of the images. The project concerns the way visual culture can create anxiety in children through the projection of unobtainable ideals. In the pictures, children are shown both as they are and as the ideal they imagine. This approach both emphasises the internal imaginings of the children, and, how various media present an artificial reality. Although I assume the artificial feel of the images was intended by Murrell, I find this approach heavy handed and it ultimately leaves me cold. Ideas about representation and self image are very much at the forefront of Starkey’s work and I find the subtle ambiguity of her images much more engaging than Murrell’s.
Badger, G. (2001) The genius of photography: How photography has changed our lives. London: Quadrille Publishing.
Campany, D. (2003) Art and Photography. London: Phaidon Press Limited.
Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (3rd Ed.) London: Thames and Hudson
Tebbs, P. (1998) Amongst women: photographs by Hannah Starkey. Source photographic review, issue 17 Winter 1998. Available at: http://www.source.ie/archive/issue17/is17review_Paul_Tebbs_13_02_31_20-03-12.php [accessed 28th May 2018]