Girl Chums, 2018
PIGMENT INKS ON HAHNEMUHLE PHOTO RAG, COURTESY OF THE ARTIST.
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.