02nd Jul - 07th Sep 2008
Shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2010.
Watch Anna Fox talk about her work in the exhibition Cockroach Diary & other stories below:
Cockroach Diary and other stories brings together works spanning twenty-five years that convey a compelling sense of both the ordinary and the bizarre in British life. This major exhibition is the first survey show by Anna Fox, one of the most significant photographers to emerge from the new wave of British colour documentary of the 1980s.
An infestation at her home in North London inspired the darkly comic Cockroach Diary, which combines queasy photographic evidence with frustrated diary entries: ‘3rd September 1996: splattered roach with orange shoe on bathroom wall – very drunk’. Country Girls, a collaboration with Alison Goldfrapp, was inspired by shared experiences of growing up as young women in ‘suffocating’ rural southern England in the 1970s, and depicts the singer collapsed under bushes or amongst bluebells.
Pictures of Linda is a 22-year long collaboration with punk singer Linda Lunus from local band Fashionable Living Death, and records her dressing-up sessions through photography and video. Fox says ‘ Linda became obsessed with having a document of herself, as she appeared in many different guises’. The Village , a deeply satirical narrative, depicts family weddings, fetes and women’s domestic lives in rural West Sussex. In a statement that could equally apply to her work in general, Fox explains, “I wanted to spend time investigating the realities (which I felt were hidden) lying behind the façade of the typical English picture postcard village’.
This extensive show also includes the works 41 Hewitt Road; My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s words; Back to the Village; and Notes From Home. Cockroach Diary & other stories is curated by Anne McNeill.
Funders Impressions Gallery, Arts Council England, Bradford Metropolitan Council, University College for the Creative Arts and Goldenshot.
Anna Fox: Photographs 1983 – 2007, a 288pp full colour hardback monograph, edited by Val Williams, was recently published by Photoworks in association with Impressions Gallery. Click here to read more
Bonington Gallery, Nottingham 22 February to 1 April 2011
Photomonth in Krakow, Poland 4 May to 31 May 2010
The Photographers' Gallery, London (2010 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize) 12 February to 2 May 2010
Ffotogallery, Cardiff 28 August to 10 October 2009
Winchester Gallery 19 November to 19 December 2008Publication
Pick of the Week
The photographer Anna Fox has spent a substantial part of the past 25 years rooting around in the undergrowth, and she’s often done it with companions such as the singer Alison Goldfrapp, with whom she bonded over their similarly “suffocating” childhoods spent in rural southern England during the 1970’s. In Fox’s Country Girls, Goldfrapp is pictured in a state of collapse amid some bluebells.
Another long-time collaborator is Linda Lunus, the lead singer from a band ominously called Fashionable Living Death. Over the years, Lunus has dressed up in various disguises before “appearing” at weddings and fêtes. The result is The Village, an unfurling narrative that offers a satirical take on rural life. Fox is determined to uncover what has been hidden. There is something intentionally horrifying about this work, in part because it eschews blood and gore, relying instead on the inference that what is weird is only just around the next corner. Take Fox’s picture of two young girls at a village sports day, for example. Only on second glance do you realise that they are wearing heavily made-up masks that will not stop grinning. Peter Chapman.
The Guide: Exhibition Preview
Anna Fox's post-punk perspective, entitled Cockroach Diary And Other Stories, unearths all kinds of choice photographic images from the most unexpected and undesirable domestic scenarios: samples of what the cat dragged in, or a cockroach infestation in her north London home. One diary entry reads, "September 3: splattered roach with orange shoe on bathroom wall - very drunk."
In an accompanying series, Fox documents the extensive dolling-up sessions through which singer Linda Lunas (of Fashionable Living Death) has continuously recreated her public alter ego. Similarly, in Country Girls, the suffocating sobriety of a rural southern England upbringing is recalled through a collaboration with Alison Goldfrapp, a close-up of the superstar's scarlet high heels splayed amid the bluebells. Then again, in The Village series, the photo-artist reveals comparable levels of inadvertent yet flagrant grotesquery in focusing on the most straight-laced of weddings and fêtes. Robert Clark and Jessica Lack.
If you go down to the woods today, chances are you won't see anything as unsettling as the images in Anna Fox's photography. But though the countryside is the site of many darkly uneasy tales for Fox, the creepy title series was shot when she lived temporarily in a city.
'When I moved to London I was taken aback by this cockroach thing,' she says cheerfully. She wasn't so much discomfited by living in the middle of an infestation ('although I think smaller ones are worst, because you can't see them so easily'), but by people's responses. 'It's the subject of such great embarrassment that nobody talks about them. I love stories that people don't talk about. Cockroach Diary is a comic metaphor about a load of dysfunctional people trying to share a home.'
Fox first became known as part of a new wave of British colour documentary photographers that included Martin Parr (who taught her) and Paul Graham in the 1980s. But where Graham's work is subtle and Parr's satirical, Fox's work (which is both), also has an oblique, gothic sensibility that reveals the darkness in apparently ordinary situations. The fact that she uses colour photography - a medium not usually associated with shadowy, imaginative renderings - gives her work an extra layer of oddity, particularly as it has moved increasingly in narrative directions.
'Colour is so immediate,' she enthuses. 'It's more aggressive. It's like, it's today, and not romantic or nostalgic, which is the impression you get with black-and-white.'
Fox's early works include Parr-like series' such as Basingstoke (1985-1986) and Work Stations (1986-88) but, as the focus of her attention shifts to rural areas, particularly Hampshire where she lives, her art moves into more enigmatic narrative areas. 'I call myself a country girl,' she smiles. 'I grew up in two different villages, and felt a huge sense of claustrophobia, particularly in the 1970s and early 1980s, with no internet and barely any public transport. You were just stuck.'
This show includes images from a series called Country Girls, a collaboration with the singer Alison Goldfrapp - with whom Fox has been friends since her late teens. 'We were both fascinated by the story of Sweet Fanny Adams, who was murdered in Alton in 1867 and chopped up. As young girls, that's the sort of story that gets you looking,' says Fox. 'It was a great metaphor, for us, for growing up in the countryside.'
Taken over a long period, the Country Girls series uses the murder of the eight-year-old girl as the starting point for unsettling images that move from posed photographs of Goldfrapp that look like 1950s fashion shots to disturbing images of her legs sticking out of bushes at odd angles. 'They're on the border between glamour and horror,' says Fox. 'But every piece of work is storytelling, and finding the stories people don't tell.'
Her work has been described as having a sense of the bizarre, but Fox doesn't see it like that. 'Someone once called my work burlesque, and there is something dramatic in it,' she admits. 'The subjects are ordinary, but I look at them sideways. Not for the sake of being odd, but of looking from a different angle.'
Still, she remains ambivalent about the countryside. 'If you come out and go back in, it's a place of inspiration,' she says. 'But it's a space that still makes me anxious.'