The way they look

Martha – Sian Davey; Sasha – Claudine Doury

I put these two work together to discuss because both are about the transitional period from one identity to another. Sasha is about the transformation from childhood to adolescence; Martha is about the transformation from adolescence to adulthood. Both work were shot by their mothers who happens to be great photographers, and the work both talks about identity, the internal process for Martha and Sasha of reconstructing their identity and their relationship with others and the world.

Sasha – Claudine Doury (member of the VU agency and winner of a host of awards including the “Leica Oskar Barnack Award” in 1999, the “World Press” in 2000 and the “Prix Niépce” in 2004)

“Sasha is a series taken over 3 years time where Claudine Doury has caught the shifting from childhood to adulthood. With this young girl (her daughter, as a mirror her own adolescence) Doury witnesses the loss of childhood and questions the construction of identity, through secret games, intimate rites, fears and dreams of adolescence.”

I love this series, and also “Artek”, but this series grew on me even more. Both talk about the fine line between childhood and adolescence, the youthful metamorphosis. In “Artek”, her language was candid and genuine. She was capturing rather than making images. In “Sasha”, she used a totally different approach. Even though images are staged and created, they feel very natural. Her sensitive touch with the soft colour she used accentuate the feelings of tenderness and sensitivity. The ritual of the cut hair strike me the most. The symbolic meaning behind about growing up and leaving behind the childhood memories was striking for me. The other photograph I love was the image of her sister lying on top of Sasha on the bed. Sasha’s eyes were closed and gave me a feeling of some sort of a spiritual transformation from childhood to adolescent, visually presented literally.

Martha – Sian Davey (artist represented by Michael Hoppen Gallery, winners of several awards including PDN Book Award ‘Looking for Alice’)

This series is about Martha who was 16 years old transforming from adolescence to adulthood. Again the series talks about changes and how Martha reconstructed her identity and gained a deeper sense of self as a woman. The series of photographs included a lot of Martha’s portraits with different type of gazes, ranging from firm, questioning, doubts, blanked, playful, longing etc and her relationships with the nature, her sister and her friends. The images at the beginning suggests to me that she was at the edge of this bubble where she was blocked from the societal norms and expectations, that she could still be her free self as she wanted to be. Slowly the series moves towards how she grew to become a woman e.g. Martha as a role of a maid, dressing up and attending social events etc, suggesting how we, as women, all needed to act in the society – reserved, articulated, elegant etc. Towards the middle of the series, I love the photograph of Martha smoking a cigarette at night. If the series were progressing the way I thought it was, this image to me suggested that this is the time, if there is one, that she would turn from a caterpillar into a butterfly. And then after series shots of her friends got drunk, the first portraits of Martha comes up was of her wearing a pink sweater. Her posture and gaze speaks so differently to the ones before – her eyes were somehow suggesting to me that the transformation is confirmed. She is now a woman. While she still had some doubts (indicating by the few images of her and her friends during their swimming times), the last image of her in the kitchen wearing a sporty bra suggested a reconfirmation of her identity as a grown woman.

The two texts in between this series help readers like me a lot in understanding the work and having resonation with the work. It did lead me to go back again and again to experience Martha’s change, bringing memories of my adolescence and how I transformed.