The first thing you noticed were her eyes. Enlarged to the size of half a body, crying, watching, cut up. Or completely absent, when a naked woman’s head is replaced by a camera. And always neatly framed in rectangles: in a developing tray, in a book, against a wall: the motifs in Anne Collier’s photography were easy to recognize.
Last month Nottingham Contemporary was very excited to show Anne Collier, who was presented as “one of the most exciting artists working with photography to have emerged in the past years”. Note how she was not labelled as a photographer as such. Her main activity seemed not to be making original photographs, but creating new images with old ones. Those in Nottingham Contemporary were pictures of pictures: photographs of magazine covers, of photos in a box, of pages of a personality test. Despite the differing forms, the result was always perfectly aligned and seemingly two-dimensional. Collier used a large-format plate camera to shoot the pictures, and never works outside of a studio. Maybe it is because of this clinical process that the pictures always looked clear, but rarely intriguing, you saw what was going on at first glance, but were not invited to give it more than that.
Collier is an American artist, who lived in California for most of her life. In an interview with the director of the museum, she explained that exposure to Californian culture and lifestyle influenced her work. She often references film, music and celebrity culture, as well as the hippie, new age and self-help movements. In the Nottingham exhibition, Faye Dunaway, Cindy Sherman and a book by Sylvia Plath were all featured, in other collections she included famous images of Candice Bergen and Marilyn Monroe photographed with cameras. She explained her use of objects like self-help books as a way to show the emotional and psychological impulses that motivated her to make the work, without making it too autobiographical.
In the interview, she mentioned her wish to establish a feeling of melancholia, and the fear of overdoing it: “inevitably, sentimentality, cliché, and nostalgia play a part in this idea, but in isolation these tropes often err towards kitsch.” It was clear how she has avoided this in her work: the clear lines and static constructions did not allow for much warmth. The pictures were all pretty, the women in them famous, the eyes beautiful, but few of them were more than that. The most interesting images were the ones that were not as easily recognisable, such as a puzzle in a box, or a photograph of an eye cut up and measured by scales. The large frames worked well in the spacious exhibition rooms; but so would have film posters. In fact, some of the images were pictures of film posters. Easy on the eye, but a bit too flat.
D. J. Pardijs