Alexandra
Davenport
     




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Pas de Deux, 2018 - 2019. 

Giclée Prints on Hahnemühle Photo Rag, 21.0 x 29.7cm. 
 
Shortlisted for FORMAT 21 ‘Control’, 2020. 

Working with found material from medical journals produced on Hysteria, and self-defence guides produced for women — ‘Pas de Deux’ explores the complex relationship between subject, maker, and apparatus in the staging of photographic imagery. Pas de Deux, meaning “Dance of Two”, is a term borrowed from dance and traditionally sees the female dancer supported by a male partner for lifts, turns, and balancing steps — to create the illusion of stillness. Thinking through these patriarchal representations of women in visual culture, from “hysterical” to “aggressive”, ‘Pas de Deux' reframes the found imagery to offer alternate visual narratives. Denying the audience of the full images, the work uses cropping as a strategy to focus on the interchangeable role of the body as both material and apparatus.

Using the camera as a diagnostic apparatus to produce their hysterical symptoms, Jean Martin-Charcot and his colleagues collaborated on an infamously staged study of hysteria at The Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris. Inducing symptoms for the camera, the female body was most often used as the site to propel their hysteric narrative, and the camera became a device with which to both induce symptoms and ‘fix’ this theatrical spectacle. Many of the images retrieved from the journals show not only patients, but also the arms of medical staff within the frame supporting & manipulating bodies in place for the camera. Resisting stillness, each image is paired alongside a corresponding self-defence guide image. Produced throughout the 60s and 70s and in conjunction with the second-wave feminist movement, these books offered practical yet performative modes of empowerment for women and suggest that the safety of one’s body is the responsibility of the victim and not the system at large. With these guides written by men — for women; the narrative placed onto the female body is once again written through the male gaze, despite offering a shift in the hierarchies of power.