Caroline Molloy

Caroline Molloy gave a talk on her career so far. She works on her personal work and in the editorial market where anthropology and photography intersect. Whilst working she keeps a notebook of visual information and ideas.

Caroline described how she produced her body of work titled ‘Questioning Maryology’ in which she took photographs of catholic school children that she asked to pose in ways Caroline herself remembered feeling at their ages. She then titled the images with these ages. Caroline’s portrait work continued with her Vogue fashion award winning portrait series ’21 individuals who do the same job’ she arranges groups of portraits of people who do the same job together but leaves the viewer guessing what job they all do. She chose to do this whilst at the Royal College of Arts to explore why we are judged by what job we do. She then started working on a portrait series with identical twins, photographing them in a way that highlighted the subtle differences between them. Caroline felt this body of work broke all the rules of photography but showed humanity really well. She extended this series by re-photographing the sets of twins that she could contact ten years later. The work; titled ‘3650days’ was presented without text to cover the stories of what had happened in those ten years except for one pair of twins that had passed away during that time. Caroline also worked on a different style of portrait that was featured in The Guardian of a forty-two objects that represented a psychologist.

Around 1995 Caroline took part in a residency in Israel making work titled ‘Age 20’. At the time Caroline herself was in her twenties but in Israel women at age twenty were expected to serve in the army so she made images of women with an object that resembled the army. She didn’t give her subjects a voice to tell their stories but attempted to tell the story of their situation by also covering ‘Bhat 21’ which was the women’s alternative to joining the army; a programme that was thought of negatively and affected the women’s passport status. Caroline then went onto another residency this time in Northern Ireland but still tackling the issue of fighting from a female point of view. Here she photographed and interviewed women from different sides of the peace-line. However she presented the images separately to the interviews so that the viewer wasn’t sure which person matched up with which story.

After a short pause in making work Caroline began to shift from analogue to digital. The inspiration to make this shift came from her visit to a small village in India where a community of local people were using digital cameras to enable them to make images and practice photography alongside their regular jobs. This opened her eyes to how digital cameras were changing the photographer and how photography itself was changing. A body of work was made by Caroline and presented in a book of the various backgrounds these local photographers favoured and their situation in history for example pictures were often taken with a blue background reminiscent of Goa beach, but also the photographers were using backdrops of cross cultural reference such as African landscapes or English gardens for their portraits. She chose to shoot this on film instead of digital as she wanted to focus on showing the visual culture rather than the quality of the image.

Caroline has been doing an M.A. in anthropology making work about studio photography in Turkish communities. She discovered that there were only four known female photographers practising in Turkey. However there was a community of Turkish photography studios all based on the same road in London who specialised in photographing Turkish couples with heavily photo-shopped backgrounds and retouching. Caroline began to photograph and film Turkish family occasions in London and used her photography as a prism to talk about their culture to eventually produce a video about photography in Turkish culture.

Caroline went on to explain that these bodies of work had been enjoyable but had made her very little money. Examples of work that earns her money as a photographer included her Hardlife magazine article for The Telegraph which she did for three years and various other magazine features. For magazines she had done pieces on twins (shot individually), couples depicted as a threesome, health features, celebrity interviews ‘a cocktail with …’, and also designers. She talked about her need to adapt to these different jobs; where she needed to adhere to what the celebrities wanted to look like for theirs, work fast for health features that included a great number of frames for an exercise book, and use her sensitivity to work on personal stories or health issues. She also told us about a moral dilemma she faced as the photographer working for both ‘Lighter Life; and ‘Slimming World’ magazine at the same time who had similar cover images. She explained that sometimes you have to act as instructed when working commercially.

Round Table Discussion

In a round table discussion with Caroline she told us she made the transition to digital from analogue around 2008. For her it seemed to happen overnight; she noticed budgets shrinking overnight, and commissions beginning to question the costs needed in a digital practice. Caroline also noticed a sudden increase in photographers taking great quantity of images without the need to look and concentrate so much. However she still likes to apply the thought and consideration of film photography to her work because it causes us to slow down and helps her negotiate ideas.

When asked how much say she has over photo-shopping and retouching when working for magazines, she told us photographers often have very little control over this. Caroline admits she had to learn these skills on the computer for the purpose of her work. Expanding on this topic of new ways of working she agreed that she is finding a shift towards moving image and multimedia now. Often she uses audio alongside images now in order to add narrative and give subjects a voice.

Caroline described how she uses her sketchbooks to map out ideas visually not only to help her concentrate on the images (because she is dyslexic and finds this easier to work from) but also because people are becoming more and more interested in knowing the journey behind the work. As well as keeping sketchbooks of ideas, Caroline also has two websites; one for her personal interests and one for her commercial work that she hopes will get her more work. Although she wouldn’t want to mix personal and commercial work, Caroline does think it’s a good idea to have an end point or goal for all work be it a book or an exhibition because it’s nice to give yourself space to see where your work lead’s to.

I asked Caroline if she had any problems gaining access into the catholic school for her ‘Questioning Maryology’ series as this interested me for the work I do in schools. Caroline didn’t have any problems with permission, but made a few suggestions to me to spend some time getting to know the subjects without a camera first and asking for an open agreement from the schools about where the work will end up so that I have the freedom to develop the work. This was a good idea because in her video about Turkish culture she found that the planned narrative changed as she was in the editing stage (due to language barriers) so it was useful to have open permission to be able to change the work at any time. Caroline found most of her subjects by chance; she located the sets of twins through word of mouth and ended up photographing mainly women subjects quite unconsciously.


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