In 2014, Troy Charles knocked on the door of 2411, Mason Avenue, Las Vegas, hoping to find his ex-girlfriend. Instead, he encountered Stefanie Moshammer, an Austrian photographer who was living in the US for three months to work on a project. They spoke for five minutes, exchanging a few sentences. One week later, Moshammer received a typewritten, 35-line love letter, which told her: “I can be your ticket to USA citizenship”.
In Not just your face honey, which takes its title from another extract from the letter, Moshammer documents the ambivalent feelings this unforeseen, obsessive declaration of love provoked. Central themes include love, illusion and identity, as well as ideas of the past, present, and future. “Of course, the series is about my personal letter, but it’s also about Las Vegas and how men try pursue women through the movie-esque American dream,” she says.
In the letter, Charles offered Moshammer marriage, a room in his house, and a “cute, special fast car that’s almost new”. Though intended to be romantic, the propositions struck her as sinister, particularly as the writer knew where she lived. “I was worried he was watching me,” she says. “I wasn’t sure of his motives – whether he was super-naive and helpless, or extreme and really did want to share his life with me.”
She hasn’t not seen or heard from Charles since, but did visit his house to take photographs last year; the images are included in her project, which she’s published as a book, and which is currently on show at the prestigious C/O Berlin gallery. Not just your face honey also includes pictures of the letter itself, the American flag, and the landscapes around Las Vegas, as well as images designed to show what life might have been like if she’d taken up Charles’ offer – a luxurious house, a swimming pool, and an expensive car.
For Moshammer, these images are a mix of fiction and non-fiction, which convey both her perception of Charles’ proposition, and key photographic themes of “reality versus storytelling”. The series is not about individual images, and needs to be viewed as a whole to understand the narrative behind it, she explains.
“The series is just like a relationship. At the beginning, you have this quick swirl of romance and untainted visions of one another; but a few months in, reality kicks in and your vision soon becomes tainted. Love is complicated, in so many ways; I’ve really enjoyed trying to capture that.”
Moshammer won the 2018 C/O Berlin Talent Award, granting her €7000 plus her solo show at the gallery, which is on show until 23 September 2018). Not just your face honey is published by Spector Books, priced €28 https://stefaniemoshammer.com/, or follow Moshammer on Instagram www.co-berlin.org/talent-award-stefanie-moshammer