in conversation with julie garran
In February this year, artist Julie Garran set herself a simple challenge. Post one photograph online, every day. As an experienced photographer, social media wasn’t something Julie had used in her practice. The project expanded, and became a large exhibition, A Photo Every Day, presented at PhotoAccess, Canberra in October. Julie’s project reveals how embedded the personal and political are in everyday life. Her images are at once personal recollections and strong aesthetic and social statements. I caught up with Julie to talk about her project, her exhibition, and her outlook as a feminist photographer.
So Julie, why post all of these photographs online, rather than collect them in a book or make a selection for an exhibition?
There are a few reasons. Some of them, I’m not going to talk about because they’re very personal. I’d never tell anybody.
Apart from that, I have been doing photography for a long time and I got to the point where I wanted to share it, I wanted people to see it, not just let my images lie hidden on my hard drive with nobody ever seeing them. I have dabbled in social media but never to any serious extent, and never to put up my photographs. So this was a way that I could actually get my work out there.
I’m trying to do more than just make my photos available for people to see on my social media sites, Google plus, Instagram, Facebook, and soon to come, Flickr.
With many of my photos I am trying to expand peoples’ view of the world, tell a story, get a message across. There is a great variety in what I post, they can be funny, beautiful, bizarre, colourful, serious, sad, sexist, cruel, and convey many other emotions. I hope it goes beyond just being a frivolous exercise to show off my work.
By posting everyday, you also anchor the images in a certain time, rather than having the image exist on its own.
Yes, often I’ll have a very strong reason why they are posted on that day. And sometimes I say what the reason is, but often no reason is given because it is personal. So some people who know me very very well might look at something and say ‘I think I know why’. But very few people would get that. But it’s irrelevant to people coming in to the exhibition, because they read what they want, they get what they want out of it.
Yes, and they make their own narrative out of it.
Exactly, and they can’t make the same narrative as me, and I don’t expect them to.
There’s one of two kids lying flat on their backs, and one of them has a Superball in her mouth. Someone actually asked me, why is the ball in her mouth? And I said, well, you’ll have to ask her. I don’t know! As far as I was concerned, it was there- so why not?
On one level it’s just fun, but the more you look, a lot of them are beyond fun. For example, there’s one image of children playing, a little girl and a boy, and the little boy has a gun aimed at her head. Well, that’s not fun. That’s kids playing games, but why do kids play games like that? It’s so obvious that we have to ask that question.
The ones I find most compelling are the mannequins. They seem to say so much by being so blank and unexpressive.
Yes, the mannequins are some of the images that aren’t actually depicting people. I often like to do objects that portray some kind of social reality. I’m very interested in the female perspective. I do have photographs of males in the exhibition, but my focus is far more on women, and on young girls. I’m trying to say something about how society influences them and what the expectations for us are.
How do you think that your feminist position comes through in your work?
I don’t even really know how to define a feminist. The word isn’t used in the same way anymore. In the seventies, it was such a positive thing for women, but now I feel it’s become a negative thing. Nobody will ever say they’re a feminist, because it’s sort of looked down upon. There’s always connotations tied to the word.
I think it’s fascinating the way many people have a problem with the word, but not necessarily the ideas. That, to me, is just another manifestation of sexism, isn’t it?
Yes, that’s exactly right. And that’s what you’ll see in my photographs. You’ll see the desperation, the vulnerability, the decay. I just love that you get those [mannequin] faces that are made to look like the most beautiful female faces, and then here they are cracking up and falling apart. But they’re still there, and they’re still used, even though they have such a broken look about them. I think most people don’t even see that, they just see another female form used to sell clothes. And then the fact that they are for sale, you know, heads for sale. In the high-class fashion places, and it’s happening now everywhere, the face doesn’t matter at all. They chop the head off, or they cover it. I’ve got one photograph of a mannequin where the head has been completely bandaged. The person becomes irrelevant, and it’s just the body and the clothes.
Think of the effect of this on young girls. There’s one image which I think is incredibly strong, of a doll’s house that was given to that little girl when she was 2 or 3 years old. It had five babies in it! It’s just like, ‘what are you here for?’ Is this what you’re going to do with your life? This is what you’re going to aspire to?’
There’s so many photographs in the exhibition that are saying things very close to my heart, the way it’s so hard to go beyond that preconceived idea of how you are supposed to look, how you’re supposed to be, and how you’re supposed to think.
Julie Garran’s project continues online. Follow Julie on Instagram @juelles810 and Google+ google.com/+juliegarran.
Claire Capel-Stanley works as Program Manager at PhotoAccess in Canberra.