I've Never Been Big Sick
Ulla Deventer’s oeuvre finds itself at the intersection of documentary photography and portraiture. Moreover, it clearly features a phantasmagoric sensibility. Deventer translates deeply personal stories into dreamlike pictures grouped in series, carefully constructed with attention to symbolism and ambiance, and leaves behind the desired objectivity and ethnographic stance that so often weighs upon this type of art photography.
For “I’ve Never Been Big Sick”, Deventer has been collaborating with women who work as a prostitute in European Capitals such as Brussels, Athens and Paris. Obviously, building trust constituted a large part of the process; the artist has spent a lot of time with these women, in their workspaces as well as in their private homes where she regularly stayed overnight.
The material for this series is in fact gathered from two sources; firstly, the personal environments of her protagonists that provide clues hinting to the image she wants to convey. Deventer’s keen eye for the layout of rooms, certain color combinations, specific objects in particular configurations and objects in juxtaposition with the models’ bodies attests to this. Secondly, the artist incorporates several of the women’s verbal accounts and anecdotes into the series. Still, as these are expressed through quasi-surreal imagery and extraordinary appositions, the result resembles a fairytale full of open-ended questions.
In addition, the ensemble is of an explicitly confounding nature. By introducing fragility, sensitivity, innocence and melancholy alongside the little indications of the harsh reality these individuals experience in the setting, Deventer attempts to compose an alternative narrative about sex workers; the staging of tenderhearted still scenes are indeed intended to derail stereotypical views on prostitution. Often, the effect is unsettling and/ or provocative, leaving the voyeuristic desire unnourished.
Each photograph can be understood as a small chapter of a prose poem. This notion is enhanced by the addition of small captions and quotes with each presentation, be it as a book or an exhibition.
In short, Ulla Deventer aims to seek authenticity by deliberately manufacturing an imagery rich of atmosphere and emotions based on real-life clues, rather than straightforwardly depicting the real or documenting reality.
by Tom Nys