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Creating Life

The portraits in Heads and Tales are photographic documentations of sculptures addressing issues of violence, death and gender identity. I wanted to make them as life-like as possible, vivid and sometimes disposed in positions suggesting movement. I used untreated pigskin to cover a sculpture I had made out of clay, with raw meat for the lips and fresh pig eyes in order that the resulting portrait would appear as if it were looking at the viewer with a vital expression which the photographer had just captured at that moment.

In fact, a photographer taking a picture of a model does more or less what I've done with my sculptures: the model will be made up, its hair will be done, appropriate lighting and pose will be chosen, etc. Or, if you prefer, what I am doing is reminiscent of what a mortician does in preparing a corpse for viewing: creating the illusion of life where there is none.

Taking photos of my sculptures is like reconstructing life, it simulates a simulation by fabricating an image of a fake face, an image calculated to deceive the viewer, since taxidermy (from the Greek, taxis: order or arrangement, derma: skin) and photography work so well together. The fake image appears convincing because we expect to see what we are used to seeing. The portrait of a face staring into the camera or captured in a snapshot simply doesn't conjure thoughts of death, even though we are often, in fact, looking at the living image of the dead when we view a photograph.

Every photograph is a memento mori, and of course we like to forget that reminder of death, so we are easily persuaded that these images represent real, living people.

Heide Hatry, 2009