The photographer’s practise uses gesture and performance to harness the power of anger
When I spoke to Patricia Voulgaris in early February 2022, she was at home in New York. Our conversation veered from my pre-planned questions almost instantly as she described her anxiety of being an emerging artist. This state of perpetual turmoil, caught between a desire for freedom while dependent on the market for survival, can be exhausting and demoralising. “I’m functioning from a specifically dark place,” she tells me. “I often feel like this ghostly figure wandering on the earth, and I’m trying to prove my existence.”
In order to untangle Voulgaris’ practice, it is essential to understand that she describes her photographs as ‘cursed’. They are a framework to unapologetically grapple with the difficult and unsettling challenges of everyday life. Her work is rooted in performance, gesture and ritual. Every image is a portal – an invitation to the viewer to reach below the surface and embrace the darkness. “My practice functions somewhere between chaos and order,” she explains. “Order provides stability while chaos creates opportunities for growth and exploration. I place myself and others (often her partner and parents) into situations where we collectively push our bodies to capture an exchange. The exchange is reaching for an illusion. A moment where actions influence supernatural forces, leaving us teetering between fact and fiction.”
Since 2013, Voulgaris has resisted categorisation. Informed by the Riot Grrrl movement and 70s performance artists like Bas Jan Ader and Ana Mendieta, her work disassembles notions of femininity, queerness, and our roles in society. She occupies a liminal space, invested in questioning ourcultural obsession with photographic truth and its relationship to power. Her fascination with the mystical is a way to complicate these ideas further, opening up a fraught emotional pace to animate the pervasiveness of invisible forces. Over time, picture-making has become a form of emancipation. A way to extrapolate herself from this world while summoning a deeper interrogation of what it means to be human.
In The Hunter, she explores notions of violence. The project reckons with the way violence permeates our society while simultaneously acknowledging the rage we hold within. Bodies are tangled, contorted into impossible forms, forced into the shadows or eclipsed by smoke and flames. Beguiling symbols of entrapment, suffering and the disorientating reality of being caught between two worlds recur repeatedly. In our perpetually destabilised world, the project is relatable, chaotic, and eerily foreboding.
“Over time, I realised I am a violent woman, and anger can be a transformational force. Rather than let people define me as some kind of monster, I want to show that it’s vital and empowering.”
“I’m just really tired of pretty images,” Voulgaris says. “What about the people who see the world for what it is? We’ve got to move past the surface. Tell me what’s inside of you. As women, we are expected to suppress our darkness. There is no escaping this pressure to be something or someone. I feel like I’m always having to occupy this different character, and I want to be myself and live in a world where we accept one another.” She adds: “Over time, I realised I am a violent woman, and anger can be a transformational force. Rather than let people define me as some kind of monster, I want to show that it’s vital and empowering.”
In many ways, The Hunter is an act of self-love. Voulgaris is reclaiming and validating her rage through exploring the messy, darker sides of ourselves. Her articulation provides a lifeline for anyone who wrestles with hiding their inner demons.
Creative director, writer, podcaster and photo director, Gem Fletcher works across visual-cultural fields, focusing on emerging talent in contemporary photography and art. She is the photo director of Riposte Magazine, and hosts a photography podcast, The Messy Truth.