We’ve all seen the casting breakdowns. “Strong but beautiful.” “Sexy but intelligent.” Is it not possible to be both? I am lucky enough to know my fair share of outstanding women, so I for one seek to rectify this culture of “but” over “and.” In A c t | r E S S I wanted to show elements of both strength and beauty; ease and graft; love and pain. No either, no or. We humans are complex creatures who can feel many different emotions at any given time; we are constantly learning, improving and feeling and I wanted to celebrate that fact. I wanted to celebrate that “and”.
I was inspired at first by an interview I read concerning the musings of a fellow actress, Denise Gough. Gough found critical acclaim recently in “People, Places and Things” and gave an interview to the Guardian in November 2017 where, on asked whether she prefers the term “Actor” or “Actress”, she says:
“We fought to be on the stage. We should reclaim that word: I don’t know where it came from, this fucking notion that putting “ess” on the end makes us weak. I would be no less afraid of a lioness than a lion.”
I was stunned. I had been calling myself an Actor for years, choosing the gender-neutral term thinking it opened more doors by allowing me to play men as well as women. Men are actors, and have played women, so why not the other way round? I realised then that I had allowed myself the fear of seeming weak, of adding an -ess to my professional description to be seen as a negative; a smaller box in which to be pigeon-holed. Gough opened up a dialogue that resulted in a speedy Twitter ‘About Me’ change and a whole new view of what it is to be proud to be an actr-ess. Of course, I am by no means saying this is what all women should do; call yourselves whatever you want - actor, actress, Barry... It was this notion of -ess, together with the barriers of reductive casting descriptions and assuming anyone remotely attractive simply has cotton wool rolling around in their head that inspired me to do something about the stereotype of an actress. If I could see it, I could photograph it. I could show we are ‘and.’
Each of the women in this series of photographs has their own ‘tagline’, a short phrase picking out elements of their personality I value and admire. I used these phrases to create a poem, ‘She’, that I wrote with the purpose of describing this endeavour as a whole. I hope every woman will read it and see themselves in it; the images also.
The recent movements of ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘Me Too’ have shown we are in this together. These women, in one way or another, have helped to shape me at various points in my life, and so it seems fitting that the phrases I chose for them describe me too.
We are, I am, She is.
24th February 2018.