I’m writing my Academic research staff profile for UCA (University of the Creative Arts) and its hard to articulate exactly what it is you are trying to do as an artist with your research- but this is a few sentences of what I wrote and it helps me to post it here to remind me of what I’m trying to do:
Ellen’s research focuses on aspects of the representation and performativity in commercial and domestic photography. Her work considers the use of photography as a means of exploring the act of representation as a meditation on photography and image performance.
Hopefully this makes sense (even just to me at the moment) as to what I am trying to do with the Nita archive and the dialogue of the performance in the domestic images of Nita taken by her mother and the Studio images and movies shot by Paramount. The next thing I need to do is go to the BFI in London and watch her movie archive which is housed there. They have about six of her films and I’m hoping to be able to use some of the stills as part of new works.
On a completely new subject, I went to the magical Port Eliot Literary Festival last weekend and bumped into my old friend and mucker Beth Orton and her beautiful family. I scanned the old contact sheet from the Trailer Park album cover I shot of her in L.A (1996) That was twenty years ago…it doesn’t feel that long.
I must get the film footage from my brother Sean first but there was a impromptu performance there (in the Sipsmith bar at Port Eliot) by my Seven year old daughter Dorith. It was a dance performance which lasted twenty minutes, mainly standing on a trunk, and I think was influenced by seeing Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth give a ten minute performance rendition of the male guitar solo, (Dorith gave me the slip and I later found her right at the front of the stage at Kim’s feet). Then on the same day her seeing Denim, the excellent theatre drag act (she also went right to the front with all the other kids). And perhaps also seeing me disco dancing around the house and doing yoga (not at the same time). If you can imagine a performance/ dance that involves influences from all those elements, then you have an idea…What can you do? I’ll post it asap..
Back to the Nita project:
Some new sketches/ ideas to work on (below)
I scanned this on black velvet. I think the fact that you can have your portrait taken, buy photographic supplies and gramophones/ records, theatre and travel tickets all from a man called Keith Prowse, demonstrates how high street shops used to function. And also the physicality of everything analogue, including photography and how that informs the experience of making it/ viewing it/ hearing it/ buying it.
SS Manhattan ship passenger ticket for Nita in 1933.
I like the physicality of label this too- especially the string and reinforced punch hole.
A page from one of Nita’s notebooks, (Nita’s writing, 1935).
I might use the text from here in another piece, not sure what yet. This is not the first time Nita has spoken about ‘melancholy‘ and ‘nerves‘, terms in the 1930’s for depression and anxiety. There’s something very current about this phenomenon and, depression and anxiety are illnesses that I’ve suffered from since having children. (I can date them back to when my mother died ten days before I gave birth to Dorith). So to see the illnesses documented and contextualised here in these terms in my Great Aunts archive is interesting for me personally but also I think historically. I imagine the roller coaster life of being an actor and performer made depression more difficult to handle as an illness because there was and is so little security in being an artist and for Nita, perhaps the only constant was family life. Maybe this was another reason for her close bond to her interior domestic life. For me this also informs the ‘performance’ in all of the photographs both commercial and domestic.
Nita in a ruin (Circa 1958)
As Nita aged, her scale reduced in the archive photographs, as if she was gradually receding away from the lens. You can especially see that here as she becomes camouflaged, part of the greater image.