The Kensington and Chelsea Art Weekend was filled with discussions by renowned photographers talking in intimate groups about their latest projects and what motivated them to pursue certain ideas for their work. Marysa Dowling began Sunday’s discussions with an introduction to her 2007-17 project Blue Bag, which aims to explore how the camera can impact, question, hide and expose identity through representation.
The project spans 10 years and 400 different portrait sitters. To capture the portraits she worked directly with people rather than models, asking them about themselves and creating an authentic moment with them. During this project Marysa used a blue plastic bag as a prop to allow a gateway for her subjects to tell a story or create a performance about their identity. Afterwards, the subject would choose the next person to be photographed, demonstrating the innate connectivity between people. She then revisited the people photographed ten years later, asking them to reflect on anything that has significantly changed about them in the timeframe.
Marysa described how meeting and photographing people in various parts of the world enabled her to understand the place she was in; ‘often we feel as though we know a place through information in the media, however gestures, connections and acts between people are much more telling.’
In her latest project ‘The Conversation’, Marysa narrowed her focus to working with a group called All Change on a project called ‘Inspire!’ supporting young parents with creative workshops. She wanted to connect both of her projects and so proceeded to make portraits of the women she worked with at All Change, immediately noticing a contrast between the way she had worked with people in Mexico compared with in London, demonstrating the interdependence between people and places on identity.
She noticed a difference between the way the women in London felt about being behind a camera, suggesting that the influence of social media in western culture has affected the way individuals feel about being photographed. By taking the control away from the subject a vulnerability is created, which the women in Mexico appeared less affected by; here we see how social media has changed the way we perceive and express ourselves.
Marysa’s portraits are deeply personal whilst also being widely relatable. Her ability to capture a person’s identity through discussion and props enables an authenticity to surface in the depiction of those she has photographed.
Written by Chloe Fox