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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Informing Contexts – Portfolio Choices

The final choices and decisions made for my work in progress portfolio are presented below.


Figure 1: Sutherst 2017

My portfolio (figure 1) has a clean layout designed to be very much like a box of prints that you would take to a gallery when you are trying to persuade them to exhibit your work. I decided it should have a white background, so it looks as though the images are displayed on the white walls of the gallery. I have used a sans serif font to improve the readability of the text in my portfolio.   The only text contained in my portfolio is the title of each image. I have used faded grey for the text instead of black so it does not distract away from the image.

The images are untitled to preserve some ambiguity in the interpretation of their narrative.  My inspiration for this was Cindy Sherman, who left many of her images  untitled and open to the viewer’s interpretation. Performance means different things to different people, so this strategy works well in my body of work.


Figure 2: Sutherst. Untitled #1. 2017

Untitled #1 (figure 2)

The first image in my portfolio is a self-portrait that underpins the intent of my practice which wishes to explore how people perform differently in front of camera.  For me having this photograph taken was a big deal.  I am not somebody who will put myself in front of the camera willingly.  In fact, I’m usually the one hiding at the back of the group shots. My other defence against having my photograph taken is to act a fool in front of the camera. I do this rather than portray the real me.  I think it’s because people may judge me from this image; that people will think they know who I am from the 2-D representation of me that is shown in photograph. But representation is not me; it is merely a snapshot captured in an instant. This is not the real me.   My intention is that through my body of work you will get to know the real me. You will get to know who I am and what is important to me.


Figure 3: Sutherst. Untitled #2. 2017

Untitled #2 (figure 3)

They say that a picture tells a thousand words. The image was inspired by the work of Roger Ballen.  His images are compelling and provocative. He does not use captions, they are not needed. His powerful work speaks for itself. I am hoping that this image will speak for itself.  This image could have been quite ordinary, had it not been for the extreme styling. Here we have a young girl, she looks as though she’s beautiful but we can’t tell because she’s wearing a mask. She is wearing beautiful clothes and is styled impeccably. Her nails are beautifully manicured and are in stark contrast to the gun that she’s holding. So what am I trying to say with this image?

This image was influenced by Edward Weston’s photographs that he took of his wife reclining nude in her gas mask following the bombing of Pearl Harbour.  (See blog post of  8th March 2017.)  In today’s society, the narcissistic obsession of young people to constantly look their best in photographs and in particular in selfies, is contrasted against the very real possibility of war. I’m questioning whether these young people will still be wearing their beautiful clothes and have beautifully manicured nails should they have to wear a gas mask to prevent themselves from being suffocated or have to use a gun to protect themselves. This image is visually striking and draws the viewer into the image as they try to understand the contradictions in the image in front of them and interpret it in a way that speaks to them.


Figure 4: Sutherst. Untitled #3. 2017

Untitled #3 (Figure 4)

This image almost did not make the final cut the portfolio. In fact, it was a late substitution for a previous image I had in portfolio which just didn’t sit right in the sequence. I chose this image particularly because of the subject’s facial expression. The back story is that the subject had never modelled before; in fact, she never even considered modelling before. Her grandmother is a good friend of mine and arranged for the subject to come with me to the studio one day. The subject was not told where she was going or what she was doing. She was just instructed to meet me outside her local shop, as I was taking her out for the day.

At this point she did not know me, but she trusted her grandmother.  Once in the studio, the make-up artist and myself styled her based on the film Suicide Squad.

For this particular image, I asked the subject to portray how she felt about what her grandmother done. As you can see from the image she looks quite cross. I chose this image to go into the portfolio because the eye contact that she makes with the camera is quite compelling.   There is an awkwardness to the pose which adds to the narrative.


Figure 5: Sutherst. Untitled #4. 2017

Untitled #4 (figure 5)

This image was constructed in the studio. The subject is not a model, in fact she is a dancer who is just turned 16.   She had never been in the studio before but really wanted to have the experience of being photographed. I have included this image in the portfolio because of the awkwardness in the angle and proportion of her limbs.   I shot this image from an angle which gave me this distortion. The image was shot with a single light fitted with a octogonal soft box and was shot against a black backdrop.  This may seem strange considering that she is wearing a black leotard and it is almost disappearing into the background. But this is the image I wanted to create.

The visual weight of the image is concentrated around the frame, head, shoulders and legs of the subject.   Her limbs look disjointed, almost floating around on their own.  Only a closer look reassures you that she has a body.  The image looks off kilter and is intriguing to the viewer.   The position of her body and limbs do not appear to make sense, but at the same time they do. The monochrome effect and lack of additional colours make this a striking image within the sequence.


Figure 6: Sutherst. Untitled #5. 2017

Untitled #5 (figure 5)

This is another image inspired by Roger Ballen.  The use of the mask obscures the face of the subject. The viewer is not aware of how the person is feeling. The positioning of the hands and the tilt of the head lead you to believe he is suffering from anguish, but you are guessing here. There is oddness in this image again; the mask is too small for the subject’s face and so it makes the proportions look strange. Because of the lighting used, you get the impression that the head and hands are almost detached from the rest of the body and floating in the air. Again, taking a closer look you can see that is not the case.

This image fits well with the intent of my practice which is to make the viewer really look at and engage with an image to determine their own interpretation of the message.


Figure 7: Sutherst. Untitled #6. 2017

Untitled #6 (figure 7)

Influenced heavily by Cindy Sherman’s MAC campaign images, this photograph was created using extreme styling, high key lighting and the use of gels to light the white back drop. The resultant image is full of performance.   This is the kind of image that I would envisage seeing on a billboard as part of an advertising campaign. In another blog post, I have constructed an image that shows this being used on an advertising board on the side of a bus shelter.   The subject has plenty of room around her for text to be added as part of an advertising campaign.


Figure 8: Sutherst. Untitled #7. 2017

Untitled #7 (figure 8)

This image is another one full of contradictions. The pretty pink bow in the subject’s hair is in contrast to the seductive mask that she is wearing. The image is a little confusing; on first glance you do not know exactly what you are looking at. There’s frame within the frame of the image, yet there is interest outside the frame that you take notice of. The manicured nails and the hand of the subject are outside the frame and make you consider what’s going on outside of the image.  Who is the girl in the picture? Why does she look bored? And why is she wearing a mask? What does she have to hide?

When Claude and Gilpin were on their travels around the Lake District and the Isle of Wight in the 18th century, they took a frame to look through when taking their photographs. As a photographer, I am using the frame to focus the gaze of the viewer.


Figure 9: Sutherst. Untitled #8. 2017

Untitled #8 (figure 9)

This image shows a true performance. The subject has a bored look on her face and her body language is that of someone who is fed up with having her picture taken. She is interacting with the frame that she’s holding. The frame ensures the viewer’s gaze is directly on her. This image again is full of contradictions. The viewer will question why is pretty model is sat in a beautiful chair wearing a gorgeous dress and yet on her head is a helmet. The goggles from the helmet are hanging on the corner of a frame, adding to both the confusion and the composition.

The viewer is meant to question why she is styled the way she is.  The narrative is that young girl has just come in to have her photograph taken and is running late so has not had time to change out of her beautiful dress or even to take off the helmet from where she was riding a scooter. So the photograph is taken as she is.  Again, the narcissistic obsession of young people to constantly look their best in photographs and in particular in selfies, is being challenged with this image.


Figure 10: Sutherst. Untitled #9. 2017

Untitled #9 (figure 10)

Initially, this shoot based on the work of Wangechi Mutu was intended to generate images that I could embroider and texturise.  Mutu produced illustrations of hybrid like women with multi-coloured bodies.  As I began to edit the images, I realised their potential to sit comfortably within this body of work.

This was a full body paint shoot. The model is a good friend of mine and she was not concerned about being naked in front of the camera (although she was completely covered in body paint). The make-up artist spent over six hours applying the paint exactly as I had requested. Initially this image was to be embroidered upon and the she would have had spines or spikes running down her back. But there’s something about this image in the raw state that I really like.

There is an oddness about the image when you look at it. Her ear is very distinct, it is not body painted and it stands out against her painted face and body. Her hair has been left spiky and has had no additional colour added to it. There is evidence on the floor of body paint. This shows that there have been some contortions and some movement during the shoot to create different shapes.

When editing for my portfolio, this image stood out as it could have easily been part of Cindy Sherman’s Mac advertising campaign. There is space around the subject in which text could be placed for the advertisement. Like Untitled #6, this image is part of another blog post which shows it on the side of a bus shelter, displayed like an advertisement.


Figure 11: Sutherst. Untitled #10. 2017

Untitled #10 (figure 11)

For this image, I wanted to portray the subject as someone who was bored with the whole shoot idea and was almost falling asleep. The subject was styled in a large petticoat (designed to go underneath a prom or wedding dress).   Over the top, she wore a red summer dress.   She wore a Viennese mask. From her posture, styling and body language, you get the impression that she has come back from a ball or party and now just wants to go to sleep and not be bothered with having her picture taken.


Figure 12: Sutherst. Untitled #11. 2017

Untitled #11 (figure 12)

This image is well lit against a black backdrop. The green gold colour of the frame is beautifully highlighted by the light.  This pose was serendipitously captured; it was not an intentional pose.  The subject had planned a completely different pose but slightly lost her balance at this point. I took a chance and took the image. The result is a  really pleasing image.  Even when she lost her balance, the gracefulness that comes from ballet really shone through.  The position of her hands and her feet make the composition interesting and draw the viewer in. The frame is resting on her shoulder; the angle of the frame is intriguing.  She looks totally effortless in this pose.


Figure 13: Sutherst. Untitled #12. 2017

Untitled #12 (figure 13)

Twisted Tinkerbell number one. The styling of this subject has been influenced by the work of Heather Lickliter Larkin ‘Hairyography’ (as discussed in my blog post of 12th April).  The subject is a photographer friend of mine who approached me about taking part in a twisted Tinkerbell project I was working on. He had never been in front of the camera before, and was willing for myself and the make-up artist to style however we wanted.  What a responsibility. As my previous blog post on this demonstrates, he was keen to try something new.

As a photographer, it was a useful experience for him to be able to appreciate what models feel like in front of the camera. He was really easy to shoot because as a photographer he knows the best positions to capture the light.  He understands where to place his face and body to get the best lighting effect. This was a truly collaborative shoot. I would present him with different props and suggestions of how he portray the character and he did the rest.


Figure 14: Sutherst. Untitled #13. 2017

Untitled #13 (figure 14)

Twisted Tinkerbell number two. In collaboration with the subject, it was decided that she would be styled as a Goth fairy. I wanted to make sure that in portraying her as a fairy she was not objectified in the way that J.M. Barrie had objectified fairies in Peter Pan. As discussed in my previous blog post of the 12 April 2017, the subject’s extreme make up was inspired by that worn by David Bowie in Brian Duffy’s photograph of him.

This photograph clearly demonstrates her rebellious side. The subject is biting the artificial sunflowers and isn’t posing in a way that would objectify her.  This makes the image engaging to look at.


Figure 15: Sutherst. Untitled #14. 2017

Untitled #14 (figure 15)

This image is actually another self-portrait. However, this time my face is completely obscured by a gas mask. Taking inspiration from Edward Weston and his gas mask images, for a while now I’ve wanted to explore the use of a gas mask within a portrait shot.  Having obtained the gas mask, I decided that it looked like a very unpleasant thing to wear and that I should do the shoot to see how it was, rather than ask somebody else to do it. The experience was not at all pleasant. The mask felt tight against my face and I couldn’t breathe in it.  I’m not sure if that was a psychological reaction or not.

I didn’t want to take an image that was scary or of a fetish nature.  If you look closely at the image you can make out my eyes behind the gas mask lens. I look almost panicked, which isn’t too far from the truth when you can’t breathe.  This gives the image a haunting look.  My face looks almost insect like and there is absolutely no way that you are able to tell that this is me.  I’m really performing in this image, probably because there is no possibility of being identified as the subject. To improve the aesthetics of the image, I added and red wig and wore a red tutu around my neck. This helped to frame the gas mask.  The position of my hands enhance the insect like look.

Amongst the strangeness, there is a foot in reality within this image, with the watch I am wearing.  The bands on my wrist could have been removed before the shoot.  They were deliberately left on.  If you look closely at the read band it will tell you that I am steroid dependent (due to Addison’s Disease).  This is part of who I am and who I wanted to portray in this image.  The bands are left so that the viewer has more visual clues about me, as they try to interpret the image.  This may just add to their confusion, but to me it was an important aspect of the image.


Figure 16: Sutherst. Untitled #15. 2017

Untitled #15 (figure 16)

The pose in this image is really strong.  The body shape that the subject is able to make and the direct eye contact encourage the viewer to engage with the image. Composition is strong because of the body shape and the position of her hair. The tonal range of the image works well.  It has an almost monochrome feel, except for the make-up around the eyes.    Her gaze is intense and engaging. I cannot take my eyes off her and I feel that she is watching me wherever I go.  Whilst she does not have on a physical mask, the intense eye make-up acts as a mask.  This engages the viewer to ask why she is styled that way and what does the make-up mean.


Figure 17: Sutherst. Untitled #16. 2017

Untitled #16 (figure 17)

The fetish mask and frame used in this image are particularly interesting to the viewer.   I have juxtaposed the delicate female with the heavy sadomasochist mask.  Whilst this may be considered as a rather tired trope and a bit cliché, I believe that this image brings fresh life to the styling. The female subject is not objectified in the image.  The almost monochrome image, beautifully lit by a single light, is delicate.   Her facial expression adds to this feeling.  The hardness of the mask is counterbalanced by the soft flowing lines of her dress.


Figure 18: Sutherst. Untitled #17. 2017

Untitled #17 (figure 18)

On first glance this looks like quite a traditional pose. It is only when you realise that the dancer is wearing trainers and is still managing to pose stood on her toes, that you are drawn in the oddness of the image. The dress that ballerina is wearing tones beautifully with the frame. The shape that she is able to make with her body make this portrait engaging.  She is lit by a single light which enhances the detail in her dress.  Why trainers and not ballet shoes?  Like so many of my other images, I wanted to create an off kilter and unexpected twist to this image.


Figure 19: Sutherst. Untitled #18. 2017

Untitled #18 (figure 19)

In much the same way as Untitled #11, this was a serendipitously captured moment.  When the subject was given the knife to use as a prop, she was fascinated (as you can see) with the fact that it was real and not plastic.  The moment that she realised how it moved in a cyclic motion when she supported the point with her finger is when I shot this image. I have other versions, but this is the only one with a tilted head, which adds to the awe and wonder of the image.


Figure 20: Sutherst. Untitled #19. 2017

Untitled #19 (figure 20)

This image is beautifully lit and composed.  By using a Venetian Plague Doctor mask to hide the face of the subject, i have been able to maintain the ambiguity of this image.  I am allowing the viewer to interpret the visual clues in the image in their own way.  Her body language, especially the positioning her hands and her head, and the colouring of the image,  make this a really delicate yet strong photograph.

I had wanted to show that sometimes an image is more powerful through what it doesn’t tell you. The viewer is left to question what the message in this image is. Why did that particular mask get chosen?  Who is the girl in the mask?  Why is she hiding?

This image sums up my intent in maintaining ambiguity in the interpretation of the narrative and sits proudly and strongly in my portfolio.


Figure 21: Sutherst. Untitled #20. 2017

Untitled #20 (figure 21)

Inspired by both Roger Ballen and the film ‘The Bunnyman Massacre’, I wanted to create a humorous image of someone wearing a bunny mask.  I had tried it as a self portrait, but didn’t quite get the image I was looking for.  The subject here was very keen to wear the mask and we collaborated on how the shot could look.  The pose was shot as both a full body photograph and the version above.  The one chosen is a much stronger image as the impact of the mask and newspaper are lost a little in the full body pose .

During this shoot I was reminded of a line from the John Reisman book, The Mad Bunny (2001: 219) “Finally, an important contribution could be made to the quality of life if a rabbit mask were invented which would enable you to blow your nose while wearing it.”

The mask conceals the subject from view.  We do not know if he is awake even.  This mask could be used to frighten or amuse.  I have used it in a comical way.  For this photograph in particular, having the title of ‘Untitled #20’, it could be anybody underneath the mask.  We have no sense of his identity and he has been non-personalised as a person.


I am pleased with the body of work that I am presenting at this time.  The work is resolved into a coherent series.  I have learnt a few things whilst carrying out the work.  In this digital age, where millions of selfies are posted on line each day, self-expression and performance for the camera are vital.  How you portray yourself to the world can be important.  My portfolio challenges the accepted norm of portraiture and allows the subjects to have fun and become someone else in front of the camera.

I hope you enjoy viewing and interpreting my portfolio as much as I (and my subjects) enjoyed making it.


Reisman, J.M.  2001. The Mad Bunny (Jacob Rubin Mysteries). Edition. Xlibris Corporation.

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