With a background as a commercial photographer
and shop assistant in a wig salon, Yvonne Todd is
well versed in artifice and masquerade.
She completed her BFA at Elam School of Fine
Arts in 2001, the year before she won New
Zealand’s art world’s highest art accolade, the
Walters Prize, awarded to her by Venice Biennale
curator Harald Szeeman. Her Sea of Tranquility
series from that year posed beauty consultants
collected up from Auckland department stores
against black backgrounds like so many Stepford
Wives. She has continued to foreground the
performance of femininity ever since, although her
practice is centred more generally on the business
of image-making itself.
Like all her photographs, Valley Candle from the
2008 series Dawn of Gland was made using a
large-format camera and tripod in her studio,
using transparency film. Photoshopping blends two
views of the same woman in the same image to
make it appear as if she is regarding her own
reflection critically in a mirror. The subject’s unease
is ironic given that the Bob Mackie gown she wears
was formerly owned by a woman known for her
From the collection
bright-eyed, uncomplicated personality and chirpy
charm: South Pacific star Mitzi Gaynor.
This pink chiffon and brocade costume is one of
many which Todd sources from American internet
auctions which inspire the creation of a cast of
larger-than-life characters. Combined with
synthetic wigs and elaborate make-up, these
fabulous frocks serve to create personae which
could be described as showgirls from outer space.
Having gone 12 rounds with the mascara wand,
they seem enervated; in full battledress, but not
looking forward to the war.
Todd’s customary black background produces a
sense of time suspended, a casino-like limbo where
hours might slip past unnoticed. In Valley Candle
we apprehend a woman who is incandescent but
unconfident, an incarnation of the candle in the
wind of Elton John’s tribute song to the tragedy
and celebrity encompassed by the life and death of
both Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana.
Determinedly blonde with a Californian tan, her
natural habitat might be the Valley of the Dolls of
Jacqueline Susann’s pulp fiction, or a cabaret.