Running parallel to these acts of collecting orange objects came a series of photographic portraits of members of the arts and general community wearing or in some way interacting with an orange object, which was either theirs, or had been chosen by them from the museum ‘collection’.
A simple photographic studio using flash lighting and a solid white backboard was constructed as the setting for this series of ‘collaborative’ portraits growing out of a set of convivial interactions. The deliberately staged and ‘un-naturalistic’ setting of the studio along with the request that the photographic subject should ‘invent’ a gesture involving a selected but also at times arbitrary orange object was used as a strategic device in order to destabilise still prevalent assumptions which surround the photographic portrait as a fixed system of knowledge.
At its most extreme, these assumptions have led historically to the use of photography as a tool within the ‘Anthropometric’ classification of human type within the work of nineteenth century British Photo Anthropologists Thomas Henry Huxley and John Lamprey. This can be clearly traced through their desire ‘to produce a photographic document that would permit the subsequent recovery of reliable comparative and morphometric data’ .
As a direct repost to the extreme formalism of Huxleys ‘photometric instructions ’, the subject being photographed is asked to spontaneously ‘invent’ a pose. The conventions of visual anthropology and semiotics through which the photographic subject could be decoded and understood as the trace of an ‘authentic’ documentary moment are upset by the shared knowledge of both the subject and photographer that a playful act of masquerade is taking place. The subsequent use of digital image manipulation tools to, for instance, further enhance the stripping away of physical context by the placing of the subject into a pure white space further acts to baffle any attempt to read the image as an authentic document or indicator. Through these means, a deliberate distance is created between these images and the histories of anthropological and ethnographic portraiture functioning as it does in an attempt to ‘document’ and ‘fix’ ethnic, regional or cultural ‘type’ as part of an evolving system of knowledge. Instead, these portraits seek to play with those conventions, at one point alluding to some type of cultural significance embodied within the interplay of the subjects with ‘orange’, whilst at the same time resisting any attempt on the part of the viewer to assemble those readings into a fixed system of knowledge.
Frank Spencer. ‘Some Notes on the Attempt to Apply Photography to Anthropometry during the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century’ Anthropology & Photography p100 Edited by Elizabeth Edwards. Yale University Press. 1992