Girl Chums, 2018


Weekend Herald - Canvas - - SUFFRAGE 125 - As told to Kim Knight.

I col­lect a lot of pho­to­graphs from flea mar­kets when I travel, but this one is from eBay, a cache of work that was be­ing resold by a woman in Ohio. The photo is from the Eyre Pow­ell Press Ser­vice, dated Jan­uary 1929.

The story of the Girl Chums is writ­ten on the back: “For four years Cather­ine Wing and Stella Harper of Mam­moth, Utah have suc­cess­fully toured the USA as man and wife — a ruse they adopted when they set out as ad­ven­tur­ers and found that they fared bet­ter as hus­band and wife than as a pair of girl chums. Cather­ine has worked as a bar­ber, sup­port­ing Stella as a good hus­band should. The dis­cov­ery was made when au­thor­i­ties sought to lodge a sus­pi­cion of Mann Act vi­o­lat­ing charge against them in Los An­ge­les.”

Some­body had ob­vi­ously dobbed them in, and got in the road of their won­der­ful life to­gether. I ad­mired them and I also felt very hope­ful be­cause, you know, we stand on the shoul­ders of gi­ants as fem­i­nists but also as peo­ple who choose their sex be­cause they know who they are and they don’t need us to tell them.

What I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in is how the images are re­worked ... what they’ve done with the guy-girl, who was sup­port­ing his girl­friend-wife-friend, is they’ve kind of tried to very slightly fem­i­nise his eyes and his chin, to make him look more like a girl. And the femme is very fem­i­nine, she’s cling­ing on to him. They’re faced by prob­a­bly a bar­rage of cam­eras. I felt proud of them for stand­ing up for who they were at that time.

I’m an ana­logue pho­tog­ra­pher by trade. I want to look for the ana­logue in the dig­i­tal. So I do things like dou­ble ex­po­sures and putting images back­wards and for me it was al­most like the king and queen in a set of cards, I wanted to make them, in a sense, the king and queen. You are ex­actly who you are and no­body can tell you who you should be.

Those colours you see are “cul­lets”. They’re the left­over slag, all the bits and pieces left over from the process of mak­ing mar­bles about 100 years ago. Be­cause they’re ab­stract, you can imag­ine things about them and about the feel­ing they have be­cause of the shape and the flow and the kind of en­ergy of the flow. I’m de­ploy­ing shad­ows from three-di­men­sional forms, which adds lay­ers of mean­ing and process. We don’t know what the peo­ple were think­ing, but we do know we have all th­ese dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal con­structs and re­ally bad laws that were im­posed on peo­ple’s abil­ity just to be them­selves and to be hu­mans.

I con­sider th­ese two women to be role mod­els from the past and I’m glad I found them and that I could share them, be­cause they were sit­ting in a pile of lots of dif­fer­ent ran­dom pho­to­graphs and I thought, “My gosh, th­ese women are gems, they’re com­plete jew­els in the crown of women’s — and all peo­ple’s — right to see them­selves as the way they find them­selves.”

You can see a part of the stamp of what I think was the ini­tial press agency, a kind of be­long­ing? And I’m go­ing, “No. They be­long to them­selves and each other.” It’s as ro­man­tic as f***, you know.

Dr Fiona Pard­ing­ton, 56, is an Auck­land-born pho­to­graphic artist of Maori (Ngai Tahu, Kati Mamoe and Ngati Kahun­gunu) and Scot­tish (Clan Cameron of Er­racht) de­scent. She is rep­re­sented by Stark­white.

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