Two works at the Matt Roberts Gallery in Bethnal Green have recently showcased the young photographer, E J Major.
Born in Hong Kong, E J studied photography at Nottingham and graduated in Fine Art from Goldsmiths in 2009. E.J. was exhibited as part of the Salon Photography Prize 2011 and selected as the winner from over 960 artists for the Selectors’ prize supported by A Thousand Words Magazine. She summarises her practice as creating:
photographic constructs that are, and are not what they seem [...and] aim to challenge the veracity of the photographic portrait finding an authenticity in a notion of self-portraiture that involves acting. Referencing both historical events and characters as well as those from popular culture, individual works have a narrative content but the work is predominantly concerned with ideas. The aim is to construct visually arresting images that can also be read.
The historical events referenced in Shoulder to Shoulder (2009-2011) are the Sufffragette struggles of the early twentieth century and constitute a dialogue with herself as a suffragette. There are three panels in the form of monochrome contact sheets, showing Suffragette street protests, E J apparently in prison as a result and linking these events with modern day protests. Individual images in between show E J in period dressed chained to railings as the Suffragettes often were.
These articulate into three large colour photographs, carefully constructed and photographed by E J and based on the attack by Mary Raleigh Richardson on Valazquez’s Venus in the National Gallery in 1914. In the first, E J “plays” Venus and the cherub of the original (transformed into a nurse). Venus’ reflection in the mirror is, I was told, that of her mother.
In the second, we see E J as “Slasher” Mary in front of the reconstructed Velazquez.
In the final image, the destruction has taken place, a tangle of material from the previous images hides two hands slashing the painting.
These are fascinating works, painstakingly constructed and cleverly executed. What E J - who clearly identifies with this and other Suffragettes - would make of their subsequent support of British fascism is something I’d like to ask her about.
Marie Claire RIP (2009-2011) references an article published in Marie Claire magazine showing the dreadful decline through police mug-shots of a woman a over a fourteen year period. The series, restaged again by E J, traces, recreates the woman's drug-induced decline over the period. With titles like Do not care, 1985. Hid in fear, 1988. Carried on, 1997. the awful descent into hell of the woman is traced out by E J herself.
The crux of E J's work seems to me to be the introduction of acting into photographic practice. Whether the woman is E J, or E J is the woman is perhaps the question at the heart of these images.
Matt Roberts Arts - http://www.mattroberts.org.uk/