Darwin artist Therese Ritchie is currently showing over 80 photographs in an exhibition called LOVE. Following her previous show But you’re not ugly, LOVE is a vignette of both men and women’s experiences of vulnerability, trust and sexuality. Ritchie describes the project below.
The process of how the portraits came about is simple, but its alchemy is difficult to explain. Overall it involves listening to each subject as they talk about aspects of their sexuality. Usually by the end of the conversation, we will have collated a list of relevant words and phrases. It is not a chronological list but definitely an elegant description of a life.
There is always one word or phrase that resonates very deeply with the subject and that is what they take to the next level through merging the words with the physical form—in this case their bodies.
Each subject has two photographs and after we have worked with the text on the body, shoot some images, upload and have a look, the second image usually evolves quite quickly. The outcome is not fixed and the fluidity of the subject’s self-love as they ‘see’ themselves is the work’s essence.
So on the surface the photographs appear to be about people coming out—some to a significant other, or others, some not—and some are people’s most memorable interactions about their sexuality.
But if we shift our gaze away from the subject as being the ‘other’ and see them as connected to the community, we begin to understand their deeper meaning. In this light then, they are portraits of transactions—portentous moments—between people; focusing on a person’s particular response to someone else’s telling of something intimate and previously ‘undeclared.’
When the images become more about human relationships, where trust, respect and boundaries shift when challenged we see how intrinsically connected and therefore responsible for each other we are.
The premise of the work is that it take us to that defining moment—when we speak about something that could invite public shame, disbelief and scorn to someone we believe in or trust, we call into question basic human relationships—and depending on the code of conduct and the conversation’s outcome—our attachments to family, friends, love and the wider community become stronger or more vulnerable but definitely altered.
The portraits solidify a misdirected social narrative that we, consciously or not, brace ourselves for every day. They shine a light on our evolved democracy and how within it we have smaller systems of dictatorship that flourish within our families, friendships, schools, workplaces, institutions and religions and that these are public and private forms of organized social violence.
And they open us up to the tyranny that can exist in our minds and our private lives. Using words on the body focuses the viewer on the moment when we are—or even the idea that we could be—betrayed by a source of comfort such as our family, society, religion, or friend, how we can trick ourselves into misperceiving pity or tolerance for acceptance or support; how we rarely contemplate ourselves worthy of admiration, appreciation or genuine affection and delight and how this type of self-deception can leave us feeling utterly alone.
Finally they are designed to sit quietly inside the deluge of public debaters that swamp us every time someone mentions something other than heterosexuality. They are about basic trust—trust being the foundation of belief in society and the progression of life—and how that trust can be trampled on when people are made invisible, trivialized, humiliated, derided, or seen as and spoken of, as somehow being ‘wrong’.
LOVE is at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, Vimy Lane, Parap in Darwin until October 7. All images by Therese Ritchie.
This article was first published on Bob Gosford’s Crikey blog This Northern Myth