Zwarte Piet (the Netherlands 1994-1999) is a series of portraits depicting the historical character Black Pete, traditionally the servant of Saint Nicholas arriving in every Dutch city in mid November. Posed as dignitaries in a painterly manner these blacked- up white women and children (predominantly) stare out at their viewers demanding to be acknowledged. Photographed deliberately to avoid the clichéd positions typically taken up by documentarists when dealing with such subject matter, they occupy a strange, uncomfortable space. Neither indictment nor celebration they simply are there, confrontational and ambiguous.
Country Girls 1 – 6 (1996-2001) is collaboration with the singer/songwriter Alison Goldfrapp. The series explores the experiences we shared as young girls growing up in the Hampshire countryside. Country Girls is both humorous and violent and taps into potent histories, private and public, such as the story of Sweet Fanny Adams who also grew up in Hampshire and whose violent murder in a field has been forgotten despite the familiarity of her name (and the misuse of her name in popular language: ‘Sweet FA’).
Fanny Adams was cruelly murdered in Alton, Hampshire in 1867, she was 8 years and 4 months old. Her butchered body was found in a field near Flood Meadows, her head and legs had been severed and her eyes pulled out. Her murderer, Frederick Baker, was a local solicitors clerk who had never committed a crime before. To prove his guilt at the trial the prosecutor read the entry from his diary that day: 24th August, Saturday — killed a young girl. It was fine and hot. He was the last man hanged in Hampshire. Fanny was buried in Alton cemetery. Her grave is still there today. The brutal murder, so the story goes, coincided with the introduction of tinned meat in the Royal Navy, and the sailors who did not like the new food said the tins contained the remains of “Sweet Fanny Adams” or “Sweet F A” (sweet fuck all), hence the English expression, “Sweet FA”, which for over a century has meant “sweet nothing”.
Back to the Village
Back to the Village explores the masked and performed rituals going on within a small rural village in Hampshire, where I currently live (the background research to this includes looking at literature and letters by Jane Austin and Gilbert White who both lived in the same area). I grew up in a nearby village and the rural life has always fascinated me, the English village is pictured on the top of chocolate boxes and postcards as a tranquil haven yet the reality behind this façade is quite different. These masked portraits act as a metaphor for something more sinister going on behind the scenes.