The legacy of the great German photographer August Sander, who documented German society throughout the Weimar Republic, inspired the project. Sander’s project is titled Citizens of the Twentieth Century and comprises portraits of individuals, couples and groups, organised into sections.
I was poised to make a start on the work the week that lockdown began, with an assignment in Wales, where I am working with the arts organisation Artes Mundi and the National Museum of Wales. However, like everyone else, I have not managed to leave my apartment.
Have you felt the drive to create, or has this been a time of self-reflection?
Chanarin: Like every parent with small children, I have mostly been caring for my children. However, just before lockdown, Hasselblad in Sweden sent me a beautiful camera, and it seemed like a crime not to use it.
Obviously, it has been impossible to implement the original plan for the project, above. This will go ahead as soon as lockdown ends, however, in the meantime, I’ve taken August Sander’s portrait of the Cologne painter Peter Abelen’s wife, the Painter’s Wife, as a starting point for the photographic study of my own wife, Fiona Jane Burgess, made during the lockdown in our home in London.
Abelen invited Sander to create a portrait of his wife; the Tate Gallery’s website describes the image as follows: “With her short, slicked-back hair, collared shirt, thin necktie and trousers, Frau Abelen is presented as a distinctly androgynous figure. Her masculine garb and haircut, as well as the cigarette, held between her teeth, signal the defiance of traditional gender roles.”
And Fiona, has the experience of being photographed and collaborating on the project provided a form of self-reflection, particularly during a period that many people are describing as a time for reflection? And if so, how?
Burgess: It’s reminded me of the freedom that can be experienced when you allow yourself to play. It’s easy to curate our outward appearance to fit a certain model of how we want to be seen in the world, but this project rejects that.
My identity is fluid and constantly changing and evolving and this project embraces that. It’s made me think about how my body has a history to it and a story to tell and will continue to change over time.
For example, I have a huge scar on my stomach from surgery post-childbirth and this is the first time I’ve ever shown this scar to anyone other than my husband, so that feels uncomfortable but also somehow affirmative. If something feels confronting or exposing then it probably means it’s got too much power over you anyway.