Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1973
- Purchased 2005
- 1313 x 1025mm
Tags: black (color), boots (footwear), cosmetics, dresses (garments), gaze (psychoanalytical concept), girls, gloves, guitars, musical instruments, people (agents), portraits, white (color), women (female humans), youth
There’s something not-quite-right about this photograph by Yvonne Todd. A young woman wearing gloves to play the guitar fixes the camera with a baleful stare. Her Victorian-style dress looks like 1970s polyester. The photograph is difficult to place in time—the studio set-up recalls the styling of commercial portrait photographers from the 70s or 80s, producing the kind of awkward family photograph that sits on a chest of drawers in an unused bedroom. Like many of Todd’s photographs, Ethlyn is a portrait of an individual consciousness at odds with the world.
Todd started with the dress, which was left over from an earlier series. (She has a large collection of vintage clothing which she often uses for her photographs.) She dyed it battleship grey, assembling a pastiche of looks to create a distinct character. “The green guitar was a last minute purchase from Cash Converters. And the leather gloves were also a last-minute decision, probably snatched out of a props bag I had on hand.”
Todd grew up on Auckland’s North Shore in the 1970s, and describes her childhood as being “starved of glamour”. She says that “cultural cringe was prevalent during my formative years and I looked to American culture to fuel my escapist fixations”. She watched TV shows like Falcon Crest and televised beauty pageants; “I began fetishising the women at the local chemist shop who wore lots of makeup and jewellery.” She was also fascinated with 1970s pulp horrors like Flowers in the Attic or The Stepford Wives, which deal with the dark side of a quest for perfection.
“I wanted to make images that feel familiar, like they’ve pre-existed as part of the cultural landscape. And those feelings of familiarity stem from literary, cinematic and photographic influences. Some of these influences weren’t particularly highbrow, but there is something visually compelling about them.”
(Your Hotel Brain 13 May 2017 - 8 July 2018)
Ethlyn shows a young woman posing in the style of a traditional photographic portrait. The subject stares out blankly, her old-fashioned dress, gloved hands and black boots, as well as her carefully styled hair and makeup, add to a pseudo-gothic sense of unease. Yvonne Todd, through her choice of colour and subject matter, subverts the genre of studio portraiture and blurs the boundaries between girlhood and womanhood.
Todd studied photography at Unitec in Auckland between 1994 and 1995, and received an Advanced Certificate in Professional Photography. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from University of Auckland, in 2001. Todd was awarded The Walters Prize, New Zealand’s most prestigious art award, in 2002.