Pamela Landau Connolly – Fly in Amber

Review by Douglas Stockdale •

Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822 – 1865) was a 19th century British photographer who photographed her adolescent daughters, frequently incorporating the use of mirrors and other reflecting surfaces creating multi-faceted portraits and visual narratives exploring self-reflection and introspection. Interestingly little is known of her life, who remains a mystery and what is suspected is pieced together from her 800 photographic oeuvre, mostly of her children. That Hawarden focused primarily on three of her daughters was another parallel that inspired Pamela Landau Connolly’s photobook Fly in Amber, for which her own three adolescent daughters are her main subjects.

Connolly’s title, Fly in Amber, resonates with an act of capturing a moment in time, to preserve a memory for the future, like an insect that has been preserved for all time in amber. Likewise, Connolly recognizes that the life of her three daughters, as well as her own, are about to move rapidly through the transitions into adulthood and all of the welcoming, yet daunting changes that are about to occur.

The book is organized into a dedication to Hawarden in conjunction with eight loose chapters, each as a stand alone leporello folded sheet, with ambiguous titles; Eight Day Clock, Shadow Catcher, Brick-A-Brac, Hook & Eye, Two Pair Back, Looking Glass, Permanent Autumn and Magic Lantern. The photographs are a mash-up of portraits with environmental elements and objects that provide context for the lives of Connolly and her daughters. I found the chapter titles to be interesting teasers as to what to search for that might inspire it. Some titles and photographs are perhaps easier to relate to and pair than others. It is that ambiguity in her sequencing and layout that draws me in.

The layout of each of the eight chapters is essentially layered, as the folded leporello sheets have one set of images on one side, backed by another set of images, with yet another larger image is concealed within fold. In a recent presentation by David Chickey, the co-founder of Radius Book, he described this aspect of a book design as resulting in ‘something hidden, but exposed’. It is this wonderful layout design by her that continues to make this body of work very complex, thus intriguing.

As an example, third illustration below, is Chapter III titled Bric-A-Brac, an old English term for ‘lesser’ objects that form a collection. One of side of the leporello panel begins with a well-worn hair brush entangled with hair, a side of structure in disarray with a tangle of bushes, a portrait of one of her daughters sitting among a tangle of overgrown greenery, then the last frame is the opposite side of what is probably the same hair brush. On the opposite side are separate portraits of her other two daughters and collectively all three young women have long hair. We do not know who belongs to or uses the hair-brush, but due to the tangle of hair remaining in the brush, it appears to be in active use as a wonderfully captured memento and a testimony to the very active lives of young women.

What appears visual disorienting is that when opening and flattening the leporello to investigate the large photograph printed on the opposite side, the exterior photographs become inverted, as illustrated in the last three series of photographs below. Perhaps the world at times can seem upside down.

Carol Mavor, an American art professor who writes extensively about the place of Hawarden’s work in the history of Victorian photography, states, “Hawarden’s pictures raise significant issues of gender, motherhood, and sexuality as they relate to photography’s inherent attachments to loss, duplication and replication, illusion…”, which she could be as easily discussing this body of work by Connolly.

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Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor & founder PhotoBook Journal

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Pamela Landau Connolly, Fly in Amber

Photographer: Pamela Landau Connolly, born and resides in the Lower Hudson Valley, New York.

Self-published, New York, copyright 2021

Text: English

Clamshell, 8 leporello sheets, unbound, silver metal print, dedication, table of contents, edition of 50 + 3 A/P, 4-color sheets printed by Pamela Landau Connolly, clamshell and letterpress printing by Datz Books, S. Korea. ISBN 978-0-578-94042-7

Graphic Designer: David Connolly

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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