Clare Strand (born1973) is a British photographer. In her website she describes her practice as “rolling in the grass and seeing what you pick up on your jumper”. And says she ‘brings together intensive research, deadpan humour and insights into culture’ (Strand, 2015). Sean O’Hagan says, when talking about her exhibition The Happenstance Generator ‘There is always something odd – in a good way – about Strand’s work. That oddity rests in the tension between her often personal, always playful take on conceptualism and her wilfully old-fashioned methods – the archive images, black-and-white tones and kinetic machines here are a case in point’ (O’Hagan, 2015). In her latest work The Discrete Channel with Noise she looks at how the act of communication can lead to misinterpretation, starting with the issue that as information is transmitted digitally it is split into multiple minute pieces and these can be altered into process of reformation to a whole. This piece of work has just been shortlisted for the 2010 Deutsche Börse Photography prize. In an interview with Chris Mullen, Strand says, ‘all my work is about the nature of the medium of photography, its uses and its limitations’ and ‘the question is always ‘how much to give away to the viewer?’ it is possible to explain the image away and allow the viewers no space for their own interpretation…..there are issues throughout my work I want to leave unsolved ’ (Drew et.al., 2009).
In one of her much earlier pieces of work Gone Astray Portraits she uses a 19th century convention of using painted backdrops to photograph someone against. She took a series of portraits of people, all of whom show a degree of distress or damage. The title comes from a story by Charles dickens which tells of a child lost in London and the anxiety that provokes. The background shows an apparently idyllic scene while the people are AK troubled. They look away from you, either sideways on, on with a failure of eye contact. They seem disinterested, both in the photographer and in their own problems. Chandler says ‘the ambiguities and cul-de-sacs in Strand’s work, qualities that leave the viewer on a continually slippery surface. Her art is in many ways an intensely private world, her projects are a way of resolving obsessions, of processing thoughts that simmer and won’t go away, many of them arising from the most ordinary of encounters and the most routine situations. Like the best photographers, Strand is a great and meticulous observer of details, and yet her work is rarely about that: the details are simply the things that lead her on, to enquire and to investigate, the work itself is then positioned at a point where her, often conflicting, evidence collides (Chandler, 2015). In this work there is the collision of the old with the new, the Acadian with the downtrodden, the photographer’s gaze with the lack of gaze of the subjects. There is said (in the OCA manual) to be a constructed backstory to go with each of these images, but I could not find them. In reality I wonder whether it is better to apply one’s own imagination to each of the somewhat surreal images and invent one’s own story. Gone Astray Portraits was accompanied by Gone Astray Details in which she shows a series of images of details of happenings in the city, a child pulling on its reins, the legs of a woman, someone holding a dog’s tail. Looking at the two sets of images together which tells more about the city? Which is less staged – the people against the backdrop or the apparently real snapshots? Gone Astray Details is accompanied by a series of ‘short stories’. Small snippets, just a few lines long. An example is ‘1. On the corner of Bowling Green Lane, a Middle Ages woman suddenly fell to her knees on the pavement. There was no apparent cause. In the previous six months over twenty women have fallen at this spot.’ In my book Clare Strand (Drew et. al., 2009) the words run along under the full-page images or along the bottom of occasional blank page. The is no obvious connection between the words and the images shown. There is, in fact, an image of someone crawling on their knees but it is not placed above this particular story. Are they linked? Are they too beread as entirely separate meanings? The reader/viewer is thrown into confusion. She has, as she wants to, left an open question, an unsolved mystery.
Chandler, D. (2015). Vanity Fair r. [online] Clare Strand. Available at: https://clarestrand.tumblr.com/post/142841300931/vanity-fair-text-by-david-chandler [Accessed 31 Oct. 2019].
Drew, R., Chandler, D., Eskildsen, U., Jeffrey, I., Mullen, C. and Strand, C. (2009). Clare Strand : a Photoworks Monograph. Brighton: Photoworks ; Göttingen, Germany.
O’Hagan, S. (2015). Things fall apart: the photographer who destroys her work for fun. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/apr/30/clare-strand-photographer-getting-better-and-worse-at-the-same-time [Accessed 31 Oct. 2019].
Strand, C. (2015). Clare Strand ~ Photographer ~ about. [online] Clarestrand.co.uk. Available at: https://www.clarestrand.co.uk/about/ [Accessed 31 Oct. 2019].
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