Yvonne Todd carried out a driveway deal in 2001. She bought a used large-format camera from a retired food photographer. The camera had been advertised in the classifieds of The Photographer’s Mail—a now-defunct local industry publication. Up until then it had mainly been used to photograph gently steaming bowls of soup and assemblages of vegetables.
Nineteen years on Yvonne is still working with the beloved but increasingly decrepit camera. Parts of it are held together with tape and shooting with it involves patience and perseverance.
For her latest body of work—Hypertrophic—Yvonne made a deliberate choice to work the idiosyncrasies of the camera into the composition. Two works in the exhibition feature intentional light leaks that beam across the subject. Shot before lockdown, they are part of Yvonne’s growing oeuvre of high-impact portraits of female subjects that are both glamours and disconcerting—or as Misha Kavka described in Creamy Psychology “eerily familiar and achingly alienating.”
Typical of Yvonne’s work the images refuse to yield a straightforward reading. In Portiscura, the subject’s oversized mini dress and metallic hot pants recall 1960s fashion photography, while the light leak adds a psychedelic quality. Upon closer inspection, the minidress’ polkadots—made from couch upholstery fabric turned inside out—become enlarged craters, the fabric’s surface ribbed and ridged in an uncomfortable, unsettling way.
Half-way through this project, Yvonne’s practice was put on hold. When the country entered the nation-wide lockdown, she was flung into a domestic vortex of cooking, cleaning, and children’s entertainment. Exhausted by the domestic drudgery of caring for three young children, Yvonne couldn’t shoot in her usual manner with the large-format camera and studio lighting. During that time she turned her gaze inward and kept a photographic journal of home life. Some images from that series can be viewed on the National Gallery of Victoria’s Instagram page.
Yvonne said of that time, “being in mandatory isolation for seven weeks with three young children was, at times, like an endurance test. It felt unreal at first; a twilight zone of confinement and repetition, with the jaunty repertoire of The Wiggles as our soundtrack. What was reassuringly constant, perhaps, was the weather; bright, crisp and autumnal. Sometimes it felt like we were holidaying in a small town with no amenities and few inhabitants. Since it wasn’t practical for me to take photographs in my usual manner, I took on the role of domestic documentarian, photographing small moments spontaneously, with available light. Roaming the house with camera gave me a sense of purpose while life was on hold.”
Emerging from lockdown, Yvonne returned to the studio but the world was not the same. She began to experiment with grittier portraits of her family. Included in the exhibition is a pair of portraits of her and her husband Colin each holding one infant twin. Styled as “ageing hippies”, the works lack the usual intimacy or sentimentality of family portraits and have a comic, anthropological feel to them—two survivalists resurfacing, disheveled from an apocalypse. Adding to the peculiarity is Colin’s fake beard and wig, lending him a quasi-religious, cultish appearance.
In addition to photographic portraits, Hypertrophic features five letterpress prints of Yvonne’s drawings. Collated from her visual diaries, the drawings date from 2010–2020. This is the first time Yvonne has exhibited her drawings, and they are an exciting new development for her practice.
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