I Sell the Shadow to Save the Substance

An exhibition of new photographs by Birmingham-based Lucy Hutchinson takes as its central idea the ways in which identities are projected through photography. Deriving from a period of residency researching one small section of the Library of Birmingham’s historic photographic collection in conjunction with GRAIN, Hutchinson’s works cast a fresh eye on female tribes from the middle classes.

Lucy Hutchinson, 'Eco Plate,' 2014. Copyright Lucy Hutchinson, photograph by Amy Snape

Lucy Hutchinson, ‘Eco Plate,’ 2014. Copyright Lucy Hutchinson, photograph by Amy Snape

Hutchinson spent time not so long ago living with family in Hong Kong. There she encountered the impossibly beautiful wives of ultra-wealthy British bankers, and the three identities exhibited in this body of work are based on them. The photographs also reference the formal Victorian studio portraiture of the Library’s carte de visite collection that depict Birmingham’s middle classes in their very best clothes. The artist’s unusual juxtaposition of time periods, and of excess and formality foregrounds how photographs, via clothing, props and the pose, continue to be used to express not necessarily the person one is, but the person one would like to be.

I Sell the Shadow to Save the Substance is made up of three large format photographs and a series of smaller ones. Each separate work depicts Hutchinson dressed as a particular character, posing formally within constructed sets arranged in her studio. ‘The New Money’ (all works 2014) for instance, shows the artist dressed glamorously in an ornately beaded dress, smiling and leaning upon pillars made from white fur and richly printed silks. Look more closely, however, and it is possible to see that the gilded leaves of the pot plant are in fact embellished with household tin foil, the edges of the silk are raw and frayed, her fingernails are bitten and a tear runs down her cheek, scoring a line into her heavy makeup. The apparent perfection of the image and of the woman is deftly undercut by details that disrupt the surface of the photograph.

Lucy Hutchinson, 'New Money,' 2014. Copyright Lucy Hutchinson, photograph by Amy Snape (2)

Lucy Hutchinson, ‘New Money,’ 2014. Copyright Lucy Hutchinson, photograph by Amy Snape

More overt contradictions appear in her works ‘The Eco-Warrior’ and ‘Eco Plate’ wherein a triumphant woman rests her foot upon a cut-down tree trunk like a proud hunter. She wears leather boots, and has a chair and curtain made from polythene: materials hardly appropriate for someone dedicated to saving the planet, and even more strangely, her spade is made from mud. Similarly, the desk in ‘The Academic’ is built from polystyrene, there are no papers or pens in the scene and the books behind her are spines printed on to paper. Despite the seemingly confident poses, the short skirts and plunging necklines, each woman is crying too.

The construction of each image is significant. The majority of the props and backdrops that feature in the photographs have been made by Hutchinson herself. These are not found objects but constructed articles of illusion. It is also worth noting that the clothing worn in this series were bought in Hong Kong: Chinese fakes of European designer clothes.

Throughout the exhibition contradictions abound. Each of Hutchinson’s tableaux are destabilised by their own content. Everything is to be questioned and nothing is quite as it seems.

Lucy Hutchinson
I Sell the Shadow to Save the Substance
Library of Birmingham
2 December 2015 – 22 February 2015

Commissioned and published by Photomonitor, 14 January 2015


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