Mel Bagshaw - Nine Lives - Beauty Queen
Nine Lives Series
Color photo | epoxy
55" x 41.3"
For this body of work, Mel Bagshaw was inspired by a childhood memory of a photograph by Robert Wiles, that he saw in an old Life magazine of Evelyn McHale, who plunged 86 floors to her death. The woman’s body dented the car so badly that it almost formed around her. However, outwardly she was unmarked, passive and beautiful - she looks like a model. From this initial starting point, he created a series of images entitled 9 lives that he has been photographing since 2007.
The photographs adopt the language of fashion with their staged poses, constructed environments, attention to detail and careful choice of clothes and accessories They use the imagery of reportage photography, the constructed tableaux of early photography (including post mortem photography), Renaissance and Victorian painting with their visual clues, lighting and subtext. However as a whole, the photographs draw on a long tradition of romantic themes of suicide, tragic endings and noble deaths in art, literature, poetry, music, film and theatre.
The images are not concerned with death per se, the aftermath, bloating, discoloring and decay, they explore the evidential nature of suicide as a catalyst and creator of the scene and the narratives that precede and follow it. By using only young fashion models, I have also made the visual link to fashion photography more precise rather than using normal models. I have also used female models also for the same reasoning that the female model is still seen as the dominant symbol for fashion rather than a male one. That the clothes are obviously such an important element may further the idea that these women are superficial, concerned only with their appearance in death, however this relates to my earliest research about the careful and often meticulous preparations which many individuals go through in an act of suicide and how the victims wish to be perceived after death.
The use of young beautiful subjects for my photos also alludes to another conundrum. The mystery and tragedy of any suicide is often perplexing, however when it happens to those who are young, seemingly healthy, happy and successful, it is even more mysterious and compelling to witness. Consider the suicides of young people like Kurt Cobain, and it is all too apparent that they gain a mythical, almost deified status. Using models like this serves as a reference point to all those famous icons whose lives and beauty are fixed in our collective memory and are forever preserved by their early death. In the photos- death, sleep, dreams and the romantic tragedy of early death are woven together and the figure of the sleeping beauty frozen in a death-like sleep becomes an emblem of serenity.