The Story Behind Sam Taylor-Johnson’s New Suspended Self-Portraits

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Wired by Sam Taylor-Johnson
SAM TAYLOR-JOHNSON Wired (Hare), 2020Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Lorcan O’Neill

The British artist continues her suspended self-portraits series with an exhibition in Rome of photographs taken amidst the barren landscape of Joshua Tree

Leading a transatlantic life between Los Angeles and the UK casts its influence on the British artist Sam Taylor-Johnson. However, “the feeling of being caught between two worlds comes not from just straddling the globe between two continents,” the YBA artist tells AnOther, “but equally the physical self and the ethereal mind.”

The large-scale photographs in her new exhibition Wired at Rome’s Galleria Lorcan O’Neill embody her emotional balancing through the attempts of physical ones: suspended in Joshua Tree’s dry air with construction tools, her body is balanced up high, with full trust in the crane’s ability to uplift her. “The duality of thought and physical difference play into the work – to be caught between a place in time, physically and emotionally in a space that reflects my geographical mindscape,” she explains.

The tension between kinetic and static energies prevail in Taylor-Johnson’s juxtapositions as she perilously hovers above the ample southern California landscape. Among Joshua trees, vintage American cars, cranes, and even balloons, her likeness is occasionally unobtrusive, blended into the rock formations in Wired (Bananas) and almost invisible in front of the muscular truck in Wired (Truck). The medley of raw nature and mundane gears surrounds the photographer – who is her own subject – while weightlessness and pressure coalesce in her release from the ground.

In Wired (Trainers) and Wired (Hare), large-scale curtains printed with desert imagery provide faux backgrounds within the brisk reality of nature. With its otherworldly quality, the Joshua Tree National Park is washed by the scorching sunlight, the barren landscape’s earthy surface dotted with ferns, cacti, and mounts of rock. The artist’s body – that of a British woman living in California – is at once confronting and vulnerable: “Living in Los Angeles gave me a feeling as an outsider living in this magical world of otherness; Joshua Tree seemed to represent that pictorially.”

A delayed mobility inhabits each image through Taylor-Johnson’s contortions due to the clash between her crafted elevation and the gravitational pull. “Using the things that physically hold me up and the constructs that it took to create those pictures felt so imperative to stay within the story of the picture,” she adds. Similar to indigenous desert blossoms, Taylor-Johnson rises towards the blue sky under brisk light, with the confidence of a seasoned mountaineer while radiating the vulnerability of letting go. “The trees are ancient and look like creatures coming out from the earth – nature full of character.”

While Taylor-Johnson has been photographing herself suspended in air for almost two decades, the new show lets her examine the medium’s relationship with authenticity today. After spending months digitally removing the equipment that lifted her up in previous works, she lifted the curtain on her technical secrets with this series. “In a world where we can delete, copy and paste, and Photoshop images all so easily, this series felt it had to be truthful to what it took to suspend me in this other world,” she says. “It took cranes, ropes, people and stamina.”

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Wired is on at Galleria Lorcan O’Neill in Rome until 23 March 2023.