Although Hannah Starkey’s photographs are not self-portraits, they are autobiographical in that they are linked to the artist’s experience as a woman who lives and works in the cosmopolitan city of London, which she chose as her place of residence instead of her native Belfast. To shoot her images, the artist uses professional actresses, selected on the basis of the roles that each photograph calls for. “Seen from a female perspective,” the artist says, “the constructed scenarios in my images explore women’s lives through their everyday interactions.” The attention to moments that are absolutely banal or apparently devoid of narrative significance emerges from the artist’s self-described stance as “a perpetual tourist” with regard to people and situations encountered. Her insistence on the act of looking, often a dominant motif in her images, stems from the importance that Starkey attributes to the act of observing others, which she considers a means for better knowing oneself. Even in their restrained immobility, each work establishes a narrative that alludes to the complexity of social structure and codified behaviors based on age or class, within the female universe of the contemporary city.
The images in the collection belong to a group of works that focus on the inherent transcendence of adolescent life. In Untitled – August 1999, 1999, three young girls meet beneath a wall marked by ordinary graffiti and outlines of religious figures. Their attention is caught by a girl of the same age, who in her turn responds, amused, to an action that is taking place outside the image. Her glance points to the same space that we, as observers of the photograph, find ourselves occupying, and which symbolically becomes the field of real life, still separated from the world of adolescence. The inhospitable frame of the contemporary city also characterizes Butterfly Catchers, 1999, in which a desolate pile of ruins is the improbable landscape where two girls seek a trace, though transitory, of beauty.
Untitled – January 2000, 2000, instead, is set within a shop belonging to a popular video rental chain in England. Four young women, perhaps a group of friends planning to spend an evening together, are focused on choosing a videocassette. The search for a film seems to isolate each of the adolescents in a distinct realm, making any type of communication impossible. The attention paid to the information on the cassette case and the resigned attitude of waiting struck by one of the members of the group become gestures charged with a hieratic fixity, despite the context of everyday banality. “The moments described,” Starkey observes, regarding these images, “transcend into modern allegories, as the subjects remain anonymous, masked by the fashion and customs of this era.”