Siri Hayes

Transition Portraits

Transition Portraits is a series of large colour photographic portraits of people in the act of removing clown make-up. My subjects looked at themselves in a mirror as they removed their painted masks, and I photographed their mirrored reflection.

I was interested in how the smearing action of removing the make-up can create a moment of existential crisis. The subject is captured in transition between the disintegration of one identity and the unveiling of another, and the subject and viewer are both privy to the transformation. Dr Gene Sherman, Director of Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, wrote that these photographs potently capture ‘the traditional clown dichotomy: a bleeding dissolving inner world contrasting with the professional artist / entertainer’s role – to make audiences laugh and enjoy (from Dr Gene Sherman’s speech as a judge at the award ceremony for the ‘Olive Cotton Award for Photographic portraiture’ 2006).

Investigation of surface is central to how these portraits function visually and conceptually. A photograph is a smooth surface that creates an illusion of depth and reality. I have added an additional layer of illusion to these portraits by photographing the mirror instead of the subject. This investigation continues beyond the surface of the medium to the imagery within. Incomplete erasure of the clown make-up, and the revelation of the underlying human face draws attention to the surface of both. At a conceptual level, the portraits simultaneously reveal and conceal multiple surfaces. Artist Juan Ford eloquently described this aspect of the portraits as being “like a visual rupture in a membrane placed precariously between two psychologies (from a written conversation between Siri Hayes and the artist, Juan Ford).