Vee Speers

It is undeniable that there are many beautiful sights in the world that have been captured through a lens. The Grand Canyon, the Northern Lights, Angel Falls; many natural, and indeed man-made landscapes lend themselves perfectly to photography as a visual spectacle.

However, what is much more difficult to do is to capture the essence of objects and places that one is around every day – a city street, a shopping centre, a terraced house. Familiarity tends to breed complacency with such settings, and it takes a truly skilled photographer to expose the inner beauty of the mundane. Luckily, Vee Speers is one such photographer.

Karl Lagerfeld once said of Speers, “She shows beauty where beauty can be terribly absent.” Looking at her work, it is easy to see why the fashion luminary, who is himself an accomplished fashion photographer, came to such a complimentary conclusion.

In her latest work, The Birthday Party, Speers demonstrates her capability of creating an intriguing yet unassuming narrative through imagery. Shot in three-quarter close-up against a stark grey wall, her images depict children in a multitude of fancy dress costumes, linked with the theme of a children’s birthday party.

The images are at first unsettling; the stripped-down composition and serious demeanour of the children – none of them are smiling – completely challenge the accepted norms of photography of children. Usually photographs of children, particularly those taken at a birthday party, are happy, smiling and colourful – these are cold, unemotional and bleak.

The idea of the images’ apparent emptiness is to reveal something about the mind of the viewer. Speers presents an image that is essentially a blank canvas containing one important element to which we can all relate – being a child.

In doing this, she allows the experiences and memories of the viewer to ‘fill in the blanks’ with the pictures as a stimulus for reminiscing. Indeed, some of the pictures were conceptualised through Speers’ own childhood experiences; one, in which a young girl appears to be blowing a bubble, is inspired by Speers’ memories of soap bubbles at bathtime.

The Birthday Party is a world apart from her last work, Bordello, which, according to the blurb of the book, is ‘pure seduction’. Shot in the vacant bordellos that populate the infamous Rue St. Denis red-light district of Paris, Bordello celebrates the excess and sexual decadence present in the French capital in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

However, the images are more than mere sordid erotica; the work aims, in part, to illustrate the isolated lives led by the women of the Maisons Closes during the 1930’s. In this respect, the work takes on a near photo-journalistic edge; with many of the opulent decors of the bordellos still intact, Speers shows us a rich world of belle époque luxury and profligacy that few alive today would remember.

James

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