The Gaze

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Hilton Sisters
Debutante
Janieta Eyre, Eyre, photograph, photography, gelatin silver print, portrait, self portrait, period style, memory, history, nostalgia, historical fantasy, composed photographic image, twin, twining, duplication, historical photographic style, metaphor, costume, black and white photograph, 2D art, two-dimensional art, the gaze, identity, photography, black and white photograph, portrait, metaphor, self-portrait, memory, history, nostalgia, twins, sisters, the gaze,
description

How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June... If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that--for that--I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!
--Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Chapter 2

It seems to be a version of this wish, Dorian Gray’s longed-for chance to split himself in two, to have one part of his identity age while the other stays youthful, that Janieta Eyre is exploring in Hilton Sisters and Debutante. Eyre’s version, however, comes true in metaphor, as she plays out possibilities and historical fantasies through her photography, inserting herself into each image...twice. Both images are done in a period style, and while they were completed in the 1990s, they have been designed, composed and printed to appear more like the 1890s, during the early days of photography. In this way, they reference memory, history and nostalgia.

The artist herself has no twin, except the ones she has made in her work. In Debutante, she wears black; one version of her sits on the couch, gazing downward, and the other addresses us while standing and clutching a photograph of a man. One version seems insulated, showing her with her head turned down, while the other appears to be making a vow. The photograph of a man represents the absence of that man (were he present, one would not need the photograph), and so the twins’ trouble becomes that of coping with loss. While one mourns inwardly, privately, and quietly, the other addresses us, almost accusingly, pushing her memory of the absent one forward, formally declaring her remembrance.

While looking at Hilton Sisters, we may wish to remember that these photographs were taken in 1995, before the “Hilton Sisters” - Paris and Nicky - hit the public limelight. This photograph is not likely about them. And yet, if we examine what’s happening in the image, it is still very much about public persona and social acceptance. Of the twins present, one stands and the other sits (as in Debutante); the twin on the left sits at a piano, her hands clutched before her as she stares at us. The position of her hands and the tension in her back and legs suggest that she is either about to play or has just finished playing; she has or will perform for us, and she looks to us either for permission or recognition.
 
The other twin, however, is cross-eyed; perhaps she addresses us and perhaps not. She is situated in dimmer lighting, the shadows of a nearby plant overlapping her dress, suggesting that she has drawn away from us, awkward and nervous. We realize she does not wish for the attention and approval her twin craves, when we notice that she has wedged herself against the wall, next to the piano.

Because the language of art is a language of metaphor, we read these images for what they might represent. In Eyre’s case, the twinning of herself implies duplication or splitting of personality, responsibility, identity, or possibility; at a crossroads, she decides not to choose one direction but to go in both.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Describe the twins in the Hilton Sisters and Debutante; what sort of lives do you think they might have? What do their costumes and hairstyles suggest about where they come from and how they live? How might this also be part of Eyre’s metaphor?
  • Find other examples of artwork, on the ARTSask site or through your own research, that deal with self-portraiture as a means of exploring the mind’s possibilities. How does Eyre’s approach differ from that of other artists?  You can find some examples at the Saskatchewan Arts Board exhibition website Saskatchewan Portraits.
  • How, specifically, might Eyre’s training in philosophy and magazine journalism have prepared her to make these images?
Advanced Activity

Become an art “twin”: “tableau vivant”

Find a  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  or photograph, historical or contempoary, that features a character who looks like you, that is, with your basic features (remember that hair and clothing  styleA way of doing something. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities and choice of subject matter reflect the style of the individual, culture, movement, or time period.  can be changed). The painting or photograph can have one human  figure1.  The form of a human, an animal or a thing; most often referring to an entire human form.  2.  A person of note (i.e., an important figure in history...)  or more than one figure.

You can find examples of a yearly pageant based on the above activity at Laguna Beach California at the New York Times Art and Design section at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/01/arts/design/01mast.html?_r=1&oref=slogin.

Online Activity
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Create a portrait.

  • Select a background.
  • Select the person (people) you want in the portrait using the Shape icon.
  • Arrange their poses and add any other accessories (using the Shape icon) to complete the picture.
  • Put the portrait in the frame provided.
Studio Activity

“Produce” a movie

  • If Janieta Eyre’s photographs were stills taken from a movie what do you think the movie title would be?
    sisters
  • What genre (or category) would you put the “movie” into?  Would it be fantasy, historical, adventure, horror, or a ghost story? Would it involve twins or “look-a-likes”?
  • Write a paragraph about the movie to use in a promotion package. Describe the plot, the characters and the starring actors you have hired.  Will actors be playing other parts besides the double identity characters we see in the photographs? Invent and include a dynamic quotation from your movie dialogue.

You can find inspiration from other imaginative works by this internationally known Canadian artist at the Diana Farris Gallery website.

References

Author unknown.  ‘Janieta Eyre.’  Artists, Diane Farris Gallery.  Retrieved from the Internet on June 10, 2008 from:  http://www.dianefarrisgallery.com/artist/eyre/

Author unknown.  ‘Janieta Eyre.’  BrontëBlog, January 5, 2006.  Retrieved from the Internet on June 10, 2008 from: http://bronteblog.blogspot.com/2006/01/janieta-eyre.html

Cristo, Selena.  ‘Janieta Eyre.’  Hive Magazine, Issue II, August 2003 .  Retrieved from the Internet on June 10, 2008 from:  http://www.dianefarrisgallery.com/artist/eyre/hive_magazine.htm

Lev, Nadya.  ‘Janieta Eyre Clones Herself.’  Coilhouse, (blog archive), April 7, 2008.  Retrieved from the Internet on June 10, 2008 from:  http://coilhouse.net/2008/04/07/janieta-eyre-clones-herself/

Wagner, Jason.  ‘Is Seeing Believing? - Undefined Section.’  The Duke Chronicle, January 26, 2001.  Retrieved from the Internet on Jun 10th, 2008 from:  http://media.www.dukechronicle.com/media/storage/paper884/news/2001/01/26/UndefinedSection/Is.Seeing.Believing-1459603.shtml?norewrite200611260719&sourcedomain=www.dukechronicle.com

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning