Australia born 1949
Untitled (baby's dress)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph photogram
Anne Ferran has a continuing interest in historical objects, objects which hold a physical memory. For this series of photograms, Anne Ferran worked with clothing that had been carefully preserved in tissue paper at ‘Rouse Hill’, a Sydney house that has been in the same family since 1813 – a family that devotedly preserved its past. Ferran spent six months on site, methodically choosing garments that would best allow light to penetrate, laying them on photographic paper and briefly exposing them to light. There was no camera or lens. The resulting ghostly shadow prints are direct imprints in negative form, like x-rays of the garments.
Ferran chooses her words and methods with care but seeks to elucidate better that which is usually hidden, hidden even from the photographer herself at the moment of the making – for it is the material closest to the paper which registers most clearly. The photogram process also brings out old repairs to the garments; ‘women’s work’ concealed in life, kept from the public gaze and also from public acknowledgment.
The artist becomes the mediator, a conduit through which the past can attempt to speak to the present:
When I try to reflect on these images the two things I keep coming up with are these: on one hand the obdurate barrier, like a high wall or a range of distant mountains, of short memory/thin skin; and on the other the longing to close the gap, recover the past, cross touch with sight, or lose them in one another, to press up close to things, cloth against paper, skin against skin.1
The barriers begin to break down. The pieces of clothing take on a life, they seem to radiate light and to take on a ghostly three-dimensionality, as if they are still embodied. Ultimately the works are an intimate and meditative memento mori.
1Anne Ferran, quoted I n Geoffrey Batchen ‘History Remains: The photographs of Anne Ferran’, Art on Paper, vol.4, no.3, January/February 2000, pp.46-50 (p.50).
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002