Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Anna Fox

I checked out an OCA link on their forum to an exhibition by photographer Anna Fox. Her work comprises a series of images taken at the Butlin's Holiday Park - not sure if they are called "camps" anymore. I watched a video of the artist at the exhibition explaining the concept behind her work and the difficulties she faced with the technical aspects of working mostly indoors with fast changing environments and issues of consent from both individuals and corporations.

I was fascinated to listen to her working method and how during the course of the project she changed camera formats and switched between film and digital as the need arose. I like the freedom of this method and the ability of the photographer to use whatever tool is required to achieve a creative goal. I posted my thoughts to the forum thread regarding this.

Forum thread discussion

The images themselves are printed large and contain bright colours and graphic shapes. People inhabit the spaces and can be seen at leisure doing recreational activities like swimming, playing pool or eating. They are on holiday and relaxed and appear to be enjoying themselves. What struck me most about the images is the artificiality of the environments. Brightly coloured plastic in all sorts of geometric shapes appears to be the main construction material. To me, as I viewed the images, the people looked out of place. They were juxtaposed against hard surfaces that were probably selected for their ability to survive countless encounters with many hands and feet and able to be wiped clean easily. In the video, Fox has said that the type of camera format, used together with the choice of lighting, has highlighted the intensity of strong colours and details. Of course, the reality, is that the people didn't feel out of place at all and were thoroughly enjoying their time away from home and work.

With that said the image of the family eating at a table in a fast food area caught my attention the most. The family has a young girl and she alone is looking directly at the camera. Her face has been painted with an animal design and this struck me as interesting. She is in effect wearing a mask. The girl makes me think about our need as humans beings to adopt "personas" for different aspects of our lives. Her mask represents play and leisure. So, are all the people in the images in fact wearing a mask? When we are on holiday we quite often wear different clothes with brighter colours. We may have a relaxed, carefree attitude or get very drunk. We are displaying ourselves to the world - this is me. I am on holiday and having fun. So if the people are in fact all wearing a kind of mask or visual contsruct then are they really so out of place in this plastic artificial world that the photographer has portrayed?

It is interesting that Anna Fox references the old postcards of John Hindes. Images that were taken of Butlins in the 60s & 70s. The images look over-processed with gaudy colours and again depict an environment of people having fun. The images remind me of my own childhood. I spent a few holidays myself at Butlins during this period. I remember being very happy there and the artificiality of the environment mattered not one bit. Butlins was a huge adventure playground of exciting sounds, colours and new experiences. But at the same time I was thoroughly miserable and lonely as a kid. The short breaks to Butlins were an escape from that existence. But if I analyse those memories now in the light of my interpretation of the Fox images I could say that I was wearing my own kind of mask back then. I was dressed in brightly coloured holiday clothes. I participated in activities like swimming or going on fairground rides. But at the same time I was unconsciously masking the reality of my situation.

My thoughts may seem a bit garbled or open-ended. That's because I am still working through them and they are not yet fully defined and subject to change. But, in conclusion, the Fox images raise a lot of questions in my mind about the nature of being human and how we adopt personas to portray different aspects of ourselves. The Fox images in their intense brightness and artificiality show the reality that we adopt these strategies wherever we are. It is in the images very artificiality where there is nowhere to hide that we are forced to look and our masks are highlighted. Our need to integrate, co-exist, and survive with others in our culture is ingrained. But our outward visual perception of reality is not always as real as we think it is.

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