I worked on this small body of work during 2007. I had intended for it to become a full body of images but got distracted along the way as I went more and more into my commercial work. I exhibited the final three images in the KWV Cathedral during the Cultivaria Festival of 2007. The rest of the negs never saw the light of day. Here is a collection of the images mostly in the working stages and includes snaps from my visual diaries, contact sheets, notes, the stencils used for the body marking and so forth.
A detail from my visual diary of that time shows planning notes and research along with inspirational images from graveyards I shot in Mozambique in 2004.
I was working with the “Widow” concept, utilising graveyards around the Cape Peninsular (I have a soft spot for graveyards, probably because of my obsession for details and multiples… I guess, but also because they are generally very beautiful spaces), vintage veiled hats, gloves, hand mirrors, strong and dramatic body poses, selected words or phrases (which I was applying like tattoos in gothic fonts to my models’ bodies with body paint or permanent marker), stockings, heels, suspenders and rosaries.
Cape Town has some very beautiful graveyards including the sailors graveyards in Seaforth and Dido Valley and the closed off (Victorian?) Graveyard below Groote Schuur Hospital in Observatory.
I worked with women I had shot before mostly, some friends, some previous models from commercial shoots. I hand cut the “tattoos” or body texts I had chosen for each image, including: Revere, Deference, My Carnal Avarice, Chastity and “Those are pearls that were his eyes” -a segment of Ariels song from The Tempest :
Full fathom five thy father lies.
Of his bones are coral made.
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
The permanence which comes with tattooing or scaring the body is connected here to the potency of feeling loss which remains inside the body invisibly but often forever. The words therefore represent the inward tensions connected to loss but also tied to how society has created regulations for behaviour in such contexts, how even the behaviour of despair/grief/loss has become stereotyped and stigmatised. In the images I am placing a strange connection between the words used on the womens bodies and this context in which they reside.
Heidi Erdmann, of The Photographers Gallery, added these words to the catalogue published alongside the images for the Cultivaria Festival:
The curatorial concept and theme for this exhibition is the BODY and it is discussed along two axes, Public/Private and Cruel/Tender.
Through the photographs on the exhibition the viewer will witness the collision of self-image versus private desire, historical forces versus contemporary syndrome all represented with both humour and pathos…the work illustrates how over time the human BODY has remained one of the most photographed and pictorial objects in the world.
The images were all shot on my Mamiya twin lens medium format camera; all on B&W film. The negs, once processed and contact printed, were drum scanned and then hand coloured through Photoshop, painstakingly, using very feathered selected areas which were bit by bit, layer by layer, coloured using the photo filter tool (Image> Adjustments>Photo filter) at varying opacities and colour grades.
The process yealds a look much like the original hand coloured old B&W images most people remember seeing in photo history books or girlie postcards, depending on the subtlety of ones colour application of course. The detail and colouring is best seen obviously in the original exhibition prints which were printed 82cm x 82cm on hahnemulle paper.
The often misty surrounds were created by my small obsession with kiddies smoke bombs (lit inside an old can, they smoke for about 20 seconds, in varying brilliant colours and then disperse amazingly around quite a big area, depending on the wind). Thankfully there are usually not that many people idling about to spectate in graveyards as old and beautiful as these.