Photographer Clare Strand’s latest project offers an enigmatic look at the simple table skirt. Continuing her investigation into the complex meanings of everyday objects, Strand’s publication, Skirts, features a series of photos taken at a council-owned ballroom, where table skirting, hired from a commercial supplier, is captured unceremoniously in situ. Though in black and white, the skirts are noticeably different colours, as well as different shapes and sizes, and despite striking a similar scene, the variation between each image is uncanny. Here, Strand talks about David Lynch, working without colour, and the relationship between humour and morbidity.
What was your inspiration for Skirts?
It’s hard to pick out the defining inspiration from the plethora of stuff that allowed me to think that Skirts was a worthwhile work to make. Sometimes inspiration can be a slightly overrated concept. I prefer to work on ideas in a consistent, if disorderly way.
"I am really interested in small, specialised worlds – it’s where I feel most comfortable"
Why black and white? Also, do you shoot on film or digital?
Over the past 20 years l have tried to understand what making a photograph is as a conceptual act, what the history of this has been, what photographs could be and why any of this is important to me. I will use any kind of technical or cobbled together means to get the result that is most relevant to the idea. I have used digital and analogue cameras, no camera, someone else's pictures and magazine cuttings… I have used black and white most often in my practice, as I’ve found that it helps boil the world down to its essentials. However, I never rule out working with colour.
Are you influenced by other photographers and/or found images?
I do enjoy looking at the work of others. I like work that makes me think, and I really enjoy listening, looking and learning. However, I don’t stick to one particular area of influence, and I’m more keen on what happens to stick to me… sort of like wearing a magnetic suit and seeing what it attracts or rolling in the grass and seeing what you pick up on your jumper.
Do you know the work of Corinne May Botz? For some tangential reason, these images brought her to mind.
Yes I do and I feel slightly spooked that you mention her. A friend gave me her book a long time ago. We are both big fans of Frances Glessner Lee, and Botz’s series of photos of Lee’s crime scene dioramas, The Nutshell Diaries of Unexplained Death.
Similarly, these images could easily be photos of props found on the set of Twin Peaks. How would you describe your aesthetic?
I don’t have a default aesthetic – I guess the continuous anchor of enquiry is the style. To my understanding Lynch explores, complicates and celebrates the odd and absurd qualities of the everyday. This is as good a place as anywhere to start.
How is Skirts both a continuum and a departure from your previous work?
I think, with Skirts, there is a further stripping down of subject and image. The idea of taking vast amounts of research and boiling it down to the simplest possible outcome is very attractive to me.
This is from your website: “She has dwelt on the oddity of photography’s strange backwaters, its utilitarian functions and its infiltration of every corner of our lives.” Could you say a little more about this as it relates to Skirts, as well as your general approach?
Skirting is an everyday, commercial product. I am really interested in small, specialised worlds – it’s where I feel most comfortable. Skirting is used to make tables "pretty" which does makes me chuckle. The skirting is also used to conceal, to trick and to cover up flaws… all things that photography is very efficient in. I chose to make a topology with Skirts, as this type of catagorisation is also something that photography has been most useful for.
There is a humor to much of your work, as well as certain morbidity. Do you think these two things go hand-in-hand?
If there isn’t humor then there’s just morbidity and vice versa. For me, either option is not an adequate description of pretty much anything. Living is a complex navigation of absurdity, beauty, madness, wonder and cruelty, and it is this that I hope to react to and reflect upon through my process and works.
Text by Ananda Pellerin
Ananda Pellerin is a London-based writer and regular contributor to anothermag.com