My tutor referred me to look at Julie Moos Domestics Series. I have been unable to find any background information on Julie Moos, other than she is a Canadian photographer and has exhibited at the 2002 Whitney Biennial, the Whitney Museum of America Art in New York, the Birmingham (Alabama) Museum of Art, the Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House among others.
She explores the worlds of opposites. She has made bodies of work wherein she pairs subjects seated next to each other entitled ” “Friends and Enemies” and “Domestics”. Her work tend towards formalism, defined by Liz Wells (2009: 347) as “the prioritisation of concern with form rather than content. Focus on composition and on the material nature of any specific medium. By concentrating on form rather than iconography the viewer is allowed to regard the subjects as equals. The photographer leaves it up to the viewer to work out the relationship between the women.
Click on thumbnails to enlarge
The Domestics Series features some of Birmingham’s (Atlanta) upper middle class ladies photographed seated next to their black domestic help. What immediately struck me in the four images above of Domestic Series that I managed to find on the internet in particular, was the position of the hands in the bottom set above. The two Caucasian ladies’ hands are cut off at the bottom of the frame, while the black ladies’ hands rest in their laps. We have a saying in Afrikaans (my second language) which goes “Is jou hande dan afgekap?” (trans. are your hands chopped off?). This question is usually asked of someone when the person wants you to do something that he/she can very well do on their own, to which the reply is given “what’s the matter with you – are your hands chopped off?” Just that little framing adjustment speaks volumes to me of women who have to have a maid to do the daily chores around the house that they regard as not being in keeping with their social standing.
In the top set of images the order is switched around. Reading the images from the left, we now first see the black ladies whose hands are chopped off, seated next to their Caucasian employer, whose hands rest in their laps. A total reversal from the bottom set. One has to wonder if this was done deliberately or am I reading too much into this stance. Or are the white ladies in the first set the domestic help? If these photograph had been taken in the 1950’s or 1960’s, there would have been little doubt as to who the domestic helpers are.
Then I came across this image below, also from the Domestic Series body of work. Apparently this is the only image in the set where both ladies are of the same race. Again we see the trope of the cut off hands. All the women on the left have their hands cut off. I believe that is rather significant and telling.
Overall I would say that the black women look more comfortable having their portraits taken than the Caucasian ladies. The Caucasian ladies all sport rather awkward smiles as if they are embarrassed by the act of being photographed alongside the black ladies. The domestic help (if they are the ones on the right hand side) are all well dressed, nicely made up and have obviously taken the trouble to look their best for their portraits, while most of their employers have made less of an effort. These are very enigmatic images, loaded with ambiguity, which leave me frustrated not knowing the answers to my questions.
Well, L. (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge
Moos, Julie 2001. The Domestic Series (Mae and Margaret) [online]. Slingshot Magazine. Available at: http://www.slingshotmagazine.org/issue5/html/25_26.html [Accessed 31 July, 2016]
Moos, Julie 2001. The Domestic Series (Belle and Beebe) [online]. Slingshot Magazine. Available at: http://www.slingshotmagazine.org/issue5/html/25_26.html [Accessed 31 July, 2016]
Moos, Julie 2001. The Domestic Series (Ruth and Juliette) [online]. Slingshot Magazine. Available at: http://www.slingshotmagazine.org/issue5/html/25_26.html [Accessed 31 July, 2016]
Moos, Julie 2001. The Domestic Series (Lita and Willie Mae), 2001 [online]. Chromogenic print (c-print). ArtNet Auctions. Available at: https://www.artnet.com/auctions/artists/julie-moos/domestic-lita-and-willie-mae [Accessed 31 July, 2016]
Moos, Julie 2001. The Domestic Series (Earnestine and Gaynelle [online]. Mott-Warsh Collection. Facebook. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/238357379579737/photos/a.530707657011373.1073741825.238357379579737/718144361601034/?type=3&theater [Accessed 31 July, 2016]
Anderson, Vera (2015) Mott-Warsh Art Collection Offers New Pieces on view in Thompson Library [online] Available at: https://blogs.umflint.edu/tollelege/2015/10/mott-warsh-art-collection-offers-new-pieces-on-view-in-thompson-library/ [Accessed 31 July, 2016]
Feaster, Felicia (n.d.) It takes Two [online] Creative Loafing. Available at: http://clatl.com/atlanta/it-takes-two/Content?oid=1242543 [Accessed 31 July, 2016]