Feminist photographer creates her own archive

121 Arts Critic Feminist Photography Clare Rae Artspace Gallery
121 Arts Critic Feminist Photography Clare Rae Artspace Gallery
Rhonda Dredge

Feminist photography is a relatively new area of study with strong links to the politics of the archive and the way work is stored and displayed.

Clare Rae is doing a PhD on the topic at the Victorian College of the Arts with a strong link back to the Nazis.

Her photographs were on display in July in a joint show Sedimentation at the Artspace Gallery on campus.

These exhibitions provide a rare chance for the public to get into the current trends in research and talk to candidates while their ideas are fresh.

Clare’s powerful performative photographs were taken on the island of Jersey in the English Channel where a key feminist photographer was imprisoned by the Nazis.

Jersey was the only part of Britain occupied during the war and Claude Cahun, the photographer, has become a powerful figure of resistance for young feminists.

“She was a POW [prisoner of war], then lived there for 20 years,” Clare said. “She was very androgynous, shaved her head and was a lesbian.” But she was forced to live undercover and pretend that her partner was a friend.

Cahun used performance in her photographs which were “very transgressive” and have attracted a younger audience.

Clare did a residency on the island and visited many of the sites that appear in Cahun’s work.

“I’m interested in how feminist practice might have changed. In the ‘70s and ‘80s it [feminist photography] was still relatively new.”

She’s interested in the politics of the archive and the significance attached to which artists are represented.

“Are they collected by institutions? Museums are authoritative structures. They tell you how to behave,” Clare said.

Her photographs feature herself performing for the camera in poses and places originally appearing in her mentor’s work.

The Nazis built retaining walls around the island, and these have been dismantled, the stones numbered and scattered in  secret places, as if the barricades could be rebuilt.

One of her photographs depicts Clare lying on these bizarre commemorative stones in a field.

In another she wedges herself into a corner of a building to simulate a photograph Cahun took.

A younger artist is supporting a brave pioneer who didn’t let her vision be swamped by the invaders.

She is using her body to recreate the archive for herself and others. •

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