Anna Fox: Photographs 1983-2007
As much as Anna Fox’s work – intelligently and beautifully presented in this Photoworks monograph – draws from a British colour documentary photographic tradition allied with her former tutors, Martin Parr and Paul Graham, there are substantial differences of generation, class and gender. And then there is the question of subjectivity and documentary. Parr and Graham’s work maintained the detachment typical of the documentary tradition– nothing so raw and frank as Fox’s Cockroach Diary, 1996, a small book made in reaction to her London home’s infestation of cockroaches and its damaging effect on the relationships between those in the household.
In her first major series, Work Stations, 1987-88, she offers an unflattering and critical view of office life under Thatcherism, the pictures’ awkward, fractured compositions reiterate the social discord of the people photographed. One photo showing the gusto with which one suited male shovels his breakfast into his mouth succinctly symbolises the greed of such a culture. In her next series, Friendly Fire, 1989-94, she draws attention to the bullish behaviour of yuppies in their leisure time, picturing the spectacle of paintball war games. In the pictures of her London home, 41 Hewitt Rd, 1996-1999, the disorder seems to serve as a corollary of the state of the social relations of its inhabitants.
One photograph in Friendly Fire shows a full figure cutout photo portrait of Margaret Thatcher, a target dripping in paint, set against a backdrop of trees in winter. The picture could serve as an apposite icon of Fox’s own rage and anger towards Conservatism. And this may well explain the severity and cruelty of her depiction of women’s lives in her grandmother’s village in West Sussex – The Village, 1991-3 – where through harsh flash-light and cropping, many of the women appear graceless and predatory, mouths open and hands grabbing. In Country Girls, 1996-2001, a collaboration with the musician and long-time friend, Alison Goldfrapp, we shift from pictures parodying portraits of the country woman, to a gothic series in which the country girl is portrayed as victim, with Goldfrapp positioned and photographed like a mannequin or corpse, face down in the back of a truck or in the mud.
In Cockroach Diary and the bookwork, My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s Words, 1999, Fox is most explicit about dysfunctional family relationships. In the latter, meticulous photographs of ordered objects in cupboards speak of a bourgeois order and polite front, a façade that is rudely shattered by transcriptions of the language of abuse directed at the women in the household by the father, as he succumbs to illness. In Cockroach Diary the insects serve as a powerful abject symbol for all the anxieties, fears and conflicts that erupt among the members of the household, a social discord openly revealed through pages of the diary Fox kept at the time, a facsimile copy of which forms part of the book.
While a lot of emphasis is given to social discord and disharmony by the photographs in this book, there are still important points of affirmation and affiliation. Her pictures of the aftermath of raves in rural Hampshire, Afterwards, 1983-1996, showing the sated and wasted bodies of revellers, collapsed amid all the debris left after the parties are over, convey a sense of reverie and loss. But they also point to a very different culture within village life. And it is with such a culture that Fox identifies: a culture splendidly celebrated in the longstanding series of portraits she has made, and is still making, of her outlandish village friend, Linda Lunus, Pictures of Linda, 1983-, a durational documentary that pays tribute to one woman’s changing flamboyant styles and looks over the years, a portraiture in which one can sense an enduring friendship and a close collaboration.