Our course manual directs us to read an interview that Clare Strand did with Ana Finel Honigman but unfortunately the link is no longer available.
Strand’s method of working is first to find a subject and to research it from all angles to see what sticks. All her work is about the nature of photography and she is drawn to binary oppositions: extraordinary vs. ordinary, humerous vs. serious, etc. She seems to work mainly in black and white as colour makes her “feel claustrophobic” (Mullen, 2008).
She got her idea for the Gone Astray Portraits while she was doing a fellowship at the London College of Printing. She was researching historical aspects of the city of London when she came across a story written by Charles Dickens of a time when he got lost in the city. She was further inspired by Henry Mayhew’s writings on photographers using painted circus tents for photographic backdrops. Strand was also curious to explore the relationship between town and country in this oevre. Each character in the series is thoughtfully constructed. They are performers, especially chosen for their generic looks.
She uses an antique Victorian looking background – the same scene for all the subjects. The subjects are dressed in modern clothing. Here we have the first of Strand’s binary oppositions (Victorian vs modern). There is no confrontation with the viewer. All the subjects avert their gaze or stand with closed eyes. There is an overall sense of the surreal lurking in these images. Upon closer inspection, one can see that each and every subject is “broken” in some way. One woman carrying a shopping bag stands with her eyes closed, arms hanging by her sides. Her one eye looks as if it has sustained a beating, which seems to be borne out by her defeated stance. Another subject props himself up with a crutch under one arm, looking off into the distance. He too has a pained expression on his face. A pre-teen schoolgirl, sporting a backpack and wearing high heels stares down at the ground. She has a band-aid on her knee. Another woman smartly dressed has a massive run in her pantihose.
The works gain a certain poise and weight from their historical associations but also an indeterminacy: they are difficult to place and to date, situating themselves at odd angles to photography’s grand narrative while gently pulling at the threads that might unravel it.
At first glance the figures look as if they are emerging from a foggy, rather ominous glade, but then one looks at the ground on which the subjects are standing and reality sets in that all is not as it seems to be. The folds and creases in the ground cloth give away the fact that these are studio portraits. Again one of Strand’s binary oppositions – real vs fiction. We examine and question each image, wondering what the individual’s story is. There no clues except for their dress and their specific brokeness. The subject ignore the onlooker caught up in their own little world. Is it real or not? The images can be seen on her website at: http://www.clarestrand.co.uk/works/?id=100 .
Chandler, David (n.d.) Vanity Fair Text [online]. Available at: http://clarestrand.tumblr.com/post/142841300931/vanity-fair-text-by-david-chandler [Accessed 14 October, 2016]
Mullen, Chris (2008) Clare Strand A PhotoWorks Monograph [online] Chris Mullen Enterprises 2007/8. Available at: http://www.fulltable.com/VTS/mullen/june/b.htm [Accessed 14 October, 2016]