Museums and Heritage Studies, 2021.
Playfully fragmented, this photograph blurs the artificial and the real. From discomfort to amusement, it provokes a range of feelings. A young woman stares directly at the viewer with an expression that is difficult to decipher, somewhere between an apathetic blankness and a look of disdain. Suggestive but not definitive, the title of this work provides an initial point of reference that hints at the artist’s intent. The word ‘guttural’ usually refers to sound, so it is interesting that this artwork, Guttural Flower, has been hung in a place usually associated with being very quiet—it can be found on level three of the Kelburn Library near the art history books. Ambiguous, playful and sincere, the image invites the viewer to read into it as much (or as little) as they would like.
Yvonne Todd was born in Tāmaki Makaurau in 1973, where she currently lives and works. She won the inaugural Walter’s Prize in 2002, submitting ten photographs she produced in her final year of study at Elam School of Fine Art. Recognised as a leading contemporary photographer in Aotearoa, Todd has had multiple major solo exhibitions including a 20-year survey titled Creamy Psychology at City Gallery Wellington (2014).
Strongly influenced by glamorous and highly-contrived advertising photography, Todd's work often looks to the commercial allure of television and magazines. Whilst imitating aspects of advertising photography, she disrupts the glamour by including elements that shatter the allure. For instance, in Guttural Flower, her use of sepia and beige tones immediately dampens the appeal of the attractive young woman and the sunflower, which looks markedly forlorn. Todd draws heavily from her own experiences: “I bring a biographical element to the work, things from my past, and my reason for being interested in a particular style is because it’s something I was exposed to or had experience of.” Raised in Takapuna, a middle-class North Shore suburb, it is not difficult to form connections between the imagery she creates, particularly of young women and suburban aspirations that mask anxiety and neurotic tendencies. Todd demonstrates this tension in Guttural Flower by floating the secondary figure of the same woman above the central figure. Her despondent stare feels cold and judgemental, seemingly of herself.
Todd shoots on large format analogue film that is then digitally scanned, tweaked and printed using a high-resolution printer. It is a slow, precise process that allows Todd to achieve hyper-focused images. Todd’s portraits aim to capture the psychological states of her female subjects. As a still image, photography allows us time to contemplate and delve deeper. We, the voyeur, are granted a snapshot in time which increases our access and ability to dive into the inner psyche rather than remaining at the surface. In Todd’s photographs, as in Guttural Flower, the more you look, the more you are rewarded.
Check out Todd’s website, which includes an archive and see how Guttural Flower parallels her other works.
“Often when people meet me, they seem disappointed and say ‘you’re so normal.’” Watch this interview with Yvonne Todd, where she describes her influences and processes.
Todd's work can be found on level three of the Kelburn Library near the art history books.