Monthly Archives: February 2016

Nita Archive project, new work.

Nita in a box (i).

I started to organise some of the objects and things that belonged to Nita- items her & my mother gave me previously or that were in her archive along with photos and documents. The flowery pillow case you can see below on the right was meant for night gowns but was stuffed full with about ten pairs of arm length white kid gloves. I will do something with these, with performance or a moving image piece as they are so theatrical. It looks like she wore them regularly because she has mended the fingers with tiny stitches. I will wear them and film myself. I’ve got a performance piece in mind.

The Shoe Doll (ii) Wendy McMurdo

For the studio shoot, I was influenced by the image above from the photographer Wendy McMurdo. I love this image and how the pre-owned object itself seems to come to life in it. With quite flat light (which I prefer) the artist has managed to conjure up a presence for the doll, a personality, which is exactly what it would have had in its previous owner’s mind- a child. It’s very tactile to, making you want to handle it. The fact that its a shoe also explores the idea of children’s powers of imagination- how much of these powers do we lose or suppress when we become adults?

I also started to photograph my six year old daughter Dorith on my Hasselblad, as part of the Nita project. Dorith has persistently shown a desire to perform. Most of her performances are dramatic freeze frames using dance & movement. I thought the obvious continuum to the Nita project was to include Dorith and myself in our roles as mother, daughter, photographer, performer. This perhaps was Dorith’s response to Great Aunt Nita’s archive as well as mine. Our home life is, though, like Nita’s seemed to be, very creative and a little bit theatrical, in that we are all play acting a lot of the time, dressing up, putting on silly voices, singing, dancing and performing to each other for fun.

Dorith3_1600 Dorith1600 DorithTriptych1600
Dorith, Performance (i) 2015

The archive is full of photographs of Nita, from a young age onwards performing to camera, taken by her mother, ‘Ma Harvey’. These images are extraordinary in many ways but I think mainly because they show an innate understanding of role playing as photographer and as performer.


This creative exchange between the mother and daughter was fine tuned for four decades and as a domestic photographic document it makes a powerful contrast to the highly constructed Paramount Studio images.

Recently I have been asked to contribute 8 pages to Photography & Culture journal. I have been using creative writing in my response to the archive for about three years now. Nita kept a journal which was published in Film Pictorial Magazine in 1933. She would post a letter from Hollywood to London every Wednesday, describing her experience there as a young actress. Her magazine journal was written in the tropes of Hollywood and whilst it is important as a document it is her personal letters that tell another story. Her real story, often written in letters to her mother, was full of distaste and cynicism for what she saw and experienced. It is in these letters and manuscripts that I found Nita.

For the journal I have been writing a short story about my childhood visits to the then semi-reclusive Nita and Great Uncle Ling. A descriptive term that kept surfacing for me was gothic. Perhaps it was the old stone house itself that seemed to encase them in their past. Perhaps it was the heavy, carved mahogany furniture and Ivy wall paper. Or was it Nita’s dramatic, white powdered face that smelt so sweet whenever I leant in to kiss her.