DISTURBING AND ALLURING "Envy Log" is example of the way Yvonne Todd's photography can draw you in with the promise of a scandalous story but leave you with nothing more than unresolved plot twists. Here she presents us with a young girl sitting slumped and resigned in a wheelchair, looking towards us with an inquisitive, rather sullen gaze. Behind her stands a woman whose eyes we cannot meet, her face veiled in dark shadow.
She stands rigid and defiant, gripping the handlebars of the wheelchair. But the why remains a mystery. Todd reveals no clues as to why the little girl is in a wheelchair, who the woman is behind her, or the exact nature of their relationship. The woman seems too young to be the girl's mother, and too stiff and menacing to be a caregiver.Read more
“Envy Log” suggests something more sinister might be at work. Together with the shadowy paddock setting, the effect of this uncertainty surrounding the figures is both disturbing and alluring. Perhaps at this point you have succumbed to the familiar parental warning of “don’t stare!”? Or perhaps you are left wanting more, hunting for details within the image that might unlock the mysterious backstory?
Doing so is not impossible, however. All of Todd's figures have a personal connection. They are fictions manufactured by the photographer, but often drawn from her own life or experiences. “Envy Log” speaks to Todd's predisposition to fake illness as a child in order to get attention. Pretending to vomit, feigning short-sightedness and using typewriter ribbon to create black eyes and bruises were just a few of the tricks up her sleeve. Todd also confesses: "I tried to break my leg by repeatedly jumping out of a tree and trying to land awkwardly."
It comes as no surprise that the photograph is from her 2005 series, Mixed Up Childhood. Returning to the image with this information, we suddenly notice that the side handlebars of the wheelchair are missing. Moreover, the off-kilter wigs glint with artificial light and the odd 1960s costumes become alarmingly apparent. These purposefully placed clues expose the charade and give the already staged-looking image a heightened sense of falsity, leaving a bitter taste in our mouth.
About this artwork Related Articles 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.