Dealing in an atypical kind of self-portraiture, Dawn Woolley often creates photographic copies of herself, and then photographs them in various locations, positions and moods. Making herself a substitute and her visual representative, the work forms an inquiry into the act of looking, and being looked at. As she says of the work, “Referring to psychoanalysis and phenomenology I examine my own experience of becoming an object of sight and also consider the experience the viewer has when looking at me as a photographic object. By producing artwork that establishes me as an object it could be argued that I reinforce stereotypical images of the female body.” Indeed, the female body is a common subject of Woolley’s work, often playing with stereotypes through reinforcing them, or defying them.
In series, such as The Substitute, Woolley created a photographic copy of herself and placed it in the real world in her stead. Seeking to reinforce conventional images of the female body, but with apparent exhibitionism, Woolley created a replacement that rendered her real body invisible. The sense of disbelief for a viewer is slow to materialize, as our brain wants to see an actual 3-dimensional person. The effects are similar even when both individuals are cutouts. Selecting moments in her past, Woolley’s series, Adolescence gives her some distance from emotionally heightened events by re-creating them using photographs.
The ambiguousness of her work allows Woolley to play with assumptions about gender, and conventions of photography. There is a performative aspect to the work that is ultimately completed by the viewer. A viewer feels like a voyeur, and then, after realizing he is looking at a 2-dimensional depiction of a 2-dimensional photograph, a fool for being duped. An interesting way to examine gender roles and self-portraiture, Woolley’s images are challenging and provocative.