My first impression of Sukey was that she bore an uncanny resemblance to one of my sisters. Strangely appropriate, given that she is driven by the unresolved, the unexplained and the in between.
The second time we met she shot me. Chosen at the door of a very grand party she led us into a dark marbled parlour, where two delicate lighting sets cast softness into the gloom, an eye in the storm. I was immediately struck by her glamorous composure, her absolute calm as she directed me, and a most wicked twinkle in her eye matched with a rambunctious laugh that would crack a smile from the undertaker at a funeral. When I saw the pictures later I was stunned. Equally inspired by her 'Women of an Uncertain Age' I knew we had to collaborate.
Sukey is academic but her discourse isn't dry. Her image-making ideology is self-aware rather than self-reflexive and despite being well versed in all the posts, she is unashamedly in the business of beauty (and thank God!). Our preparation consisted mainly of in-depth conversations where psychoanalysis, philosophy, mythology and cultural theory framed our 'herstories' and iconic or stylistic references. No other photographer I've collaborated with has ever come close to that extrapolation of brief. But then to describe Sukey as a photographer is a bit like calling Bjork a popstar: it's accurate, but it somewhat misses the point.
We soon discovered a number of similarities in our lives, primarily our complex relationships with our creative and difficult fathers - hers the British actor of stage and screen, Richard Johnson, and mine the novelist and poet David Foster. Both of us were more or less considered as "une jolie-laide" by our fathers, which was clearly a more difficult tiara for Sukey to wear when she found herself in environs such as the Playboy Mansion and with a stepmother like Kim Novak.
Her real mother, whose death in their family home Sukey so bravely documented (a series which launched her photographic career), was also a professional actress for TV and film. Coupled with her own showbiz appearance, Sukey obviously became aware of the power of the lens early on in life. Now behind the camera, she is well positioned to comment on the complex notions of beauty and status and how they shape our lives, especially as women.
Sukey creates beautiful images that draw the viewer in by resisting an obvious narrative resolution. Like a young bird looking for its lost nest, you keep circling, trying to identify what it is that draws you in, makes you want to view it again and again. In her own words, she is preoccupied with the fault lines that exist between absolutes. Sukey draws inspiration from photographic artists like Gregory Crewdson, but as a portraitist, she has a very different relationship with her (mostly) female subjects. By colliding the sitter's personality and props (whether clothing or setting) with the theatrical (whether story or lighting or whatever), she manages to construct images that resonate with both the real and the imaginary.
Sukey Parnell - Guest Speaker at LPA Forum
Sukey Parnell - LPA Folio