A Body of Work
Photography by Polly Penrose
Words by Elizabeth Breiner
“Eros means to be connected to, to have a kind of relationship that seeks beauty and meaning in the other. So for instance, when people enter a home that has no so-called ‘eros’ quality to it, what they might find is a chair in the middle of the room and no books on the bookcases, and no music in the stereo, and all things are somehow not in-austere beauty, but somehow without beauty, without relationship to human beings.”
CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTES, ‘EROS: TO BE CONNECTED TO’ FROM HOW TO LOVE A WOMAN
Each new space in Polly’s compendium is home to its own set of ghosts, tables scuffed and scarred by restless phantom hands, threadbare carpets once well-trodden, heavy curtains frozen stiffly in cascading satin waterfalls. Shadows of bygone curios and hangings stain old walls, revealing nothing of what lay within like crime scene chalk outlines, while small eruptions of peeling paint form enigmatic portals into a domestic identity even further removed. Dust takes up residence in every vacant crevice, frosting over surfaces with preservational thoroughness, the minute particles of past lives now reduced to mere detritus.
“I have an urge to fit my body in and around a space, to possess it and be possessed by it.”
Drawn to melancholy places with a certain vulnerability – often those on the brink of demolition – she seeks the sometimes disquieting challenge of animating their unloved nooks and crannies with her own body, an at once abstracted and yet utterly female form. “I have an urge to fit my body in and around a space, to possess it and be possessed by it,” she explains. Through the encompassing embrace of her naked flesh, she restores to these disused spaces a certain unlikely humanity and constructs a new eroticism—one grounded in ephemeral, private contact made permanent and public through the living image.
“Eroticism does not mean sexual arousal per se, what it actually means is being related to another, whether it’s related to the lake or the ocean, or related in the way that you decorate your house on the inside, or the way that you relate to your lover.”
CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTES, ‘EROS: TO BE CONNECTED TO’
This is not eroticism in the conventional sense, with a strictly sexual purpose underlying, but is rather more closely linked to the aesthetics of desire and the intimacy individuals can achieve with a physical space that reflects their own sense of inner balance and unity. The erotic here is about the fundamental interaction between things and the potential for mutual enrichment; as Estes writes, “Eroticism does not mean sexual arousal per se, what it actually means is being related to another, whether it’s related to the lake or the ocean, or related in the way that you decorate your house on the inside, or the way that you relate to your lover.”
“I’ve only got ten seconds to get into position, and because I repeat it so many times I almost enter into this trance, and I feel like there’s a rhythm and an empathy between me and the space.”
Penrose views her solitary act as a kind of hijacking, a disruption of purpose through appropriation, rewriting the relation of objects to one another and to the unseen humans their existence evokes. For her, the encounter is one of mantric reverie that arises out of the precise and cyclic creative performance she enacts again and again for the neutral eye of the camera: “I’ve only got ten seconds to get into position, and because I repeat it so many times I almost enter into this trance, and I feel like there’s a rhythm and an empathy between me and the space.”
Her own surrender to the space permits an aesthetic harmonizing that transcends her individuality, her separateness; the organic and inorganic come together as one, and with them, so too are married the present and the past, the lover and the loved.
Polly Penrose studied Graphic Design at Camberwell College of Arts in London. She went on to work in Fashion Styling and after that worked for the photographer Tim Walker. She has always taken photographs, but started to take the practice seriously when she entered and won a competition held by the London Photographic Association in 2008. She held her first solo show, ‘A Body of Work’, at the Downstairs at Mother Gallery, London, in May 2014, and was part of a group show, Dear Sylvia, at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney, March 2015. Her work has featured on Dazed Digital, The British Journal of Photography, The Huffington Post, Hunger TV, Feature Shoot, Forth Magazine and The Wild.
nineteensixtyeight presents a selection of 14 images from the series A Body of Work, available to buy in our shop.