Looking back on my journey in photography, when I started at the Royal College of Art in 1984 I was preoccupied with the issue that photographs were not necessarily a truthful record of reality. We take this fact for granted now, but at the time this was a fairly new idea. A more genuine use of the medium, as far as I was concerned, was to make images that made the false nature of photography explicit, and hence in a twisted kind of way, were more authentic than documentary photographs were. Clearly this preoccupation has remained constant in my work.
During my time at the Royal College of Art I was doing a large amount of formal and informal portraiture, and I noticed that people who were subjects of photographs often tried to disguise their true selves from the camera. Therefore (after a number of false starts and blind alleys) I hit on the idea of turning the lens onto my own face, and conveying (acting) a range of emotional states to the camera. I made the photographs into masks, and my subjects wore them in my photographs, hence concealing themselves from my camera, while presenting my (false) expressions to the viewer.
My first body of work using this technique was completed in 1996 and is titled A Rake’s Progress. William Hogarth made a series of etchings and paintings with this title in 1733. His Rake was a scoundrel who squandered his inheritance and behaved in a very immoral way and ended up in Bedlam. My Rake does the opposite, trying to lead the life set out for him by society, but sadly he too ends up in Bedlam. He has neglected the matter of his own authenticity, and has to pay a high price for this.
The photographic masks are flat but look three dimensional because of the way the mask and background are lit. To make the mask a photograph of a face is pasted onto cardboard and then I cut out around the face. The mask is then supported in front of the face of the subject using a construction of spectacles, polystyrene and sellotape. The final photographs are then taken "straight", so there is no post production montage involved. One of my photographs, Implantation in the series Love Scenes, gives the idea of what is happening.
The sight of people holding photographic masks in front of their faces is common these days, but before A Rake’s Progress was exhibited and published this had not happened.