all images (except the one by Claude Cahun) are by Luís Branco and Sherry Wiggins
I began shooting with photographer Luís Branco last week on Tuesday at the Obras Art Residencies house (mansion) in Renkum, Holland. The house itself is a character in this new series. And how does Claude Cahun fit in?
I have been thinking about French writer, scholar, artist Claude Cahun (1894 – 1954) and the series of essays “Heroines” for several years. Please look at my blog post from December 16, 2018 in the archives on this blog. The text “Heroines” was originally published in 1925. I am using the English translation by Norman MacAfee that was published in the book “Inverted Odysseys,” edited by Shelley Rice published in 1999 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (with an introductory essay by my remarkable friend Lucy R. Lippard). Maya Deren and Cindy Sherman are also featured in this book alongside Claude Cahun. In these 15 essays Cahun inserts herself and other women into various female characters, figures that are historical, biblical, mythical while introducing few modern twists. She is deconstructing these women and portraying them within within her own unique feminist perspective of the 1920s (also Cahun was Jewish, a lesbian, a cross-dresser, a surrealist…) of the 1920s.
Claude Cahun, c. 1925.
I decided to start with “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess,” which is the 10th essay in “Heroines.” I am not an actress and have no training whatsoever in performance or theatre, but I can quite relate to this one multi-faceted character in “Heroines” that fully relates to my own life.
Curator and writer Cydney Payton made some comments about the mansion (it is called Grynsfoort) when I sent her I phone pictures of the place. To me, an American and kind of a modernist to boot, the architecture is strange. There is a contradiction between the big beautiful windows and some claustrophobic parts of the mansion. Grynsfoort was originally built in 1907 and named after a castle, but there have been some beautiful additions, the sunroom off the kitchen, and the glassy room leading to the back garden.
So, the house seemed the perfect setting for “THE ESSENTIAL HOUSEWIFE or the the Unknown Princess.”
Cydney suggested using the architecture, the spaces as places of confinement. Luis responded in kind, the mansion (or alternately a castle) is like a prison for the Wife and the Princess.
The characters/environments that Luís and I have been responding to in the mansion are – the sunroom off the kitchen, the small door used to pass things between the kitchen and the dining room, the stairs and bannisters, the stained glass window on the stair landing, the small downstairs bathroom, the glassy room off the garden, the garden (just a bit) and the upstairs study.
In four days and nights Luís and I shot 4000 images. Cydney has kindly been fully engaged in this project. She cued me and Luís at the beginning, then she selflessly examined all the images we selected and gave comments about the images. Luís is totally committed to this new project. He pushed me every step of the way. Some images are more “set up” and many are more spontaneous, he never misses a shot.
I have selected only a few images to show on this blog and on Instagram Facebook etc.. We have already posted a few on Instagram and Facebook. The following images have not had any digital treatment and they will most likely not be our ultimate selections. They are meant to just give a “feeling” for how we are working and thinking…
Below I retell the story of the Princess (and the Wife) in Claude Cahun’s essay – “ THE ESSENTIAL WIFE and the the Unknown Princess.” I invite you to get the book or ask me to send you the pdf. Cahun’s writing style is fabulous, unique, modern, surrealist, and fully feminist with many allusions to French literature, Greek history and mythology, etc.. You must read the “real thing.” But here is my condensed retell:
The Queen refused to name (baptize) her daughter the Princess and this gave the unnamed Princess many possibilities…
The modest Princess wed the intelligent Riquet a la Houppe and took his name – though they were quite mismatched. They were very happy and they had many children.
At a dinner party the Beauty cut her husband’s tassel of hair as an impromptu action, this led to a change in their relationship. The husband’s spirit was on the decline, and the Wife retained her beauty quite handsomely.
When he died first she was still quite something to see – a “fine specimen.”
The Princess endures in the form of the flat stone that indicates the empty tomb as the memory of the “Unknown Heroine” for all women.
Also thank you to writer/curator Jennifer Heath for editing and helping me with writing this blog.
This is a long-term project for me with Claude Cahun and her “Heroines.” I am very exciting about this beginning!!