The feminine mythology Patty Carroll learned as a child centers on suburbia’s claustrophobic perfection. Feeling banished to her new home in England, Patty occupied herself with a project exploring the absurdities, joys, and conflicts she felt between her identity and her role as a homemaker. After “Heads” and “Draped,” Anonymous Women’s third installment “Reconstructed” is now ready for publication. For Polarr, Emily von Hoffmann spoke with Patty about her work.
Emily von Hoffmann: You describe Anonymous Women as a study of “women’s whimsical and chaotic dance with domesticity.” Can you explain a little more about the concept of the project for our readers?
Patty Carroll: The subject is the conflation of woman and home. In the previous “Anonymous Women: Draped” photographic series, a lone woman is hidden in a vignette within the drapery, where she performs domestic trickery. The photographs are vignettes of women hidden behind drapes containing one figure and drapery, with an occasional prop or piece of furniture. In this series, “Reconstructed,” the woman becomes part of her domestic trappings and activities.
I am creating narrative, full size, still-life images comprised of many objects. “Reconstructed Series” is commentary on obsession with collecting, accumulating designing and decorating, inviting hilarity and pathos about our relationship with “things.” They are installations made in the studio for the camera that play with color, space and scale, and use household objects as subject matter. We are making a life size box in the studio as a substitute for the home. A mannequin substitutes for the woman, who is camouflaged among her domestic objects in the space. The final outcome is a photograph and/or a short video. The digital prints are 36 x 36 inches.
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago provided the basis of all of my work, and I continually seek to come to terms with it. I grew up when suburban life was idealized; the home was a place of perfection and harmony, free from harsh realities of the city, without crime, or messy interiors, where everyone’s drapes and sofa matched, where people were normal, without dark little secrets. It was at time when the “woman’s place was in the home.” I am photographically creating worlds that debunk, critique and satirize these myths of claustrophobic perfection.
EvH: You cited Virginia Woolf as an inspiration — were your influences for the project mostly literary, and from a similar time period? What were some of those other influences?
PC: My influences come from everywhere! As far as literature goes, I particularly like the Yellow Wallpaper victorian story, which directly relates. I love Anais Nin’s diaries, because they talk about her secret and not-so-secret life, but mostly her private thoughts, which are from a rich interior life. The Handmaid’s Tale is not bad either!
EvH: This series’ progression, from Heads to Draped to Constructed, mirrors your own descent and crescendo. Can you please describe the change that occurs over the course of the series, and how it relates to your personal experience?
PC: I think you have described it correctly. It was a very dark time when this project began in England, and I was really going through an identity crisis! The project does reflect my “emerging” from being hidden and worried to a kind of crazy elation of spirit. Some of it has to do with age, some with the freedom from teaching (which I did for 40 years, which I still cannot believe!) and some with just having fun in the studio, which I now consider my large dollhouse where all kinds of narratives can happen!
EvH: The climax you capture suggests at once a fight for self-identity, but also for and against materialism — its relative joys and anxieties. What sort of conclusions do you make in the project about homemaking and feminine identity?
PC: I wish I had concrete conclusions. Mostly I have questions. The entire project is about the duality of loving and hating domestic roles, activities and dramas. We all have homes and we all cook, clean and take care of people and stuff. Celebrating all of that is wonderful, exhausting and often a pain in the butt. It is the recognition of self within those roles that I am trying to address.
EvH: Can you please describe one or two of your favorite images, and the situation surrounding them?
PC: I think of the Draped series, I love the “Kilim” image. All of the time, I made the photographs in the studio, but for that one, we were selling our house, and I wanted to try something with architectural elements, so I dragged my assistant, camera and lights, as well as my friend, Justina as a model back to my house. We grabbed all of the rugs in the house and put her under them. I like the visual image, but I also like the fact that it was actually made at home.
As for the constructed series, I think the last one we made is the most entertaining, but the video is even more crazy. All of the videos are extremely short and silly and perhaps make the most fun and critique the absurdity of home life. Also, my iPhone often insists on renaming me Party instead of Patty, so I had to do a picture and video about that problem!
EvH: After browsing some of your previous work, this project seems like a bit of a departure — how did the idea for Anonymous Women arise, and do you think you’ll continue to explore these themes in future work?
PC: I was doing another series of Faux Film posters and using old pictures in them. They also required me to make small sets for the posters, and I was using drapes as a background for them. One day, I just put my assistant under them, and we were off on another project. But since most of my work is about home, you can think of it as the early work was about running away from home (and seeing what else was out there), and this work is about returning home (and seeing what it is about).
As for the future, who knows? I have other ideas, that I cannot get to yet, so who knows? I could have never predicted this work, so I hesitate to predict anything else. All I know is that I would like to say something with my pictures that mean something beyond me, and hopefully talk to and about other women in particular.