Behind the Scenes: Marionette

I wanted to portray a space with no defined boundaries – no indication of where it starts and ends, how big or small it is or what it’s made of.

I wanted to explore how we react in that space, not knowing what our parameters are,

standing and falling and rising again.

I wanted to express the feeling of being free, but only to a point, restricted to one place, moving only as far as can be reached from that position, like a puppet on string or a jack in the box on a spring, the illusion of movement without getting anywhere.

It’s a conflicted situation, being painfully aware of restrictions being placed on you that make the world feel small but all in the context of a greater thing, a bigger situation that is outside our control. This is the space with no parameters, we don’t know how long it will go on, so we respond by making ourselves smaller, safer, as if we still have some say over what happens next.

I’m not a reactionary person by nature, I like to plan, to prepare and to have some sense of stability. But these are very reactionary times, we adapt daily, sometimes hourly. We don’t know how big or small this space is, how long it goes on for so we have to respond to what we have right now.

Sometimes we do this with strength, other times we fall down.

Some notes on these images for those who like to peek behind the curtain:

The wardrobe is inspired by the music video for Shutterbug by Veruca Salt – a skirt that operates as a spring, attached to one spot on the ground and allowing movement only on that axis. It felt like the perfect way to symbolise the current restrictions.

I deliberately excluded or removed any reference to the size or nature of the location in the images – I wanted there to be no floor or ceiling, no walls, nothing to give any sense of scale. This represents the bigger situation and not having any way to know how far through it we are or how much bigger it goes.

When I shot this, I stood on a chair (to remove any reference to the floor). This caused me to be able to move only from my waist up, adding to the marionette vibe in the posing. The images were shot in one session of flowing movement, rising and falling like a dance which also felt true to the experience I was trying to capture.

I deliberately let the light overexpose and wash out in some points, blurring the boundaries between where the subject and the space met, merging one into the other. Lack of defined start and end points is definitely a key theme in this series.

I used a blank white wall to shoot against – in retrospect now I would have liked to have put a little more space between myself and the background to minimise the shadow cast by my body and increase the feeling of undefined space.

I also created black and white versions of the final 3 images. The colour versions have more depth which I find interesting in the concept of unknown space so they integrated better with the overall meaning but I did love how the monochrome flattened everything, almost like ink stamped onto textured paper.

These conceptual self-portraits were shot while we were in stage 3 Covid-19 lockdown. We’ve since moved to stage 4 where the restrictions are even tighter. In my mind stage 3 now seems like a much bigger space by comparison. It’s funny how perception works.