In all the photo series I create, narratives happen, but they are always twisted narratives. In reality, the story lines are very simple. I work in clichés…The reading’s got to come from the viewer. The minute I say what the narrative is, I really believe it’s the end of an artwork. I never say what it is.
- Tracey Moffatt interview with Coco Fusco, BOMB Magazine, 1 July 1998
Moffatt’s Laudanum took over a year to make. The 19 images were photogravures; an imaging making process popular during the turn of the twentieth century, where a photograph is used to create an etched plate from which very fine images can be printed. The works presented a psychosexual drama between two protagonists: mistress and servant. Set in a colonial mansion and titled after an opioid drug widely prescribed to treat ‘female disorders’ in the 1800s, Laudanum presents relations of power, pain, and pleasure in a fantasy/nightmare/dreamscape. The work was also often described as implying the dynamics between colonised and coloniser.
In an interview with artist Coco Fusco while she was making Laudanum, Moffatt pointed to her influences and processes at the time: the history of photography, photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Annie Brigman, Southern American writer Carson McCullers whose American landscapes reminded Moffatt of the Queensland she grew up in; ‘a very beautiful place, but also very redneck; a kind of paradise to grow up in, but you can’t wait to get the hell out.’ Moffatt spoke of ‘the landscape of the face’ of working-class people, and how her memory and imagination interplay with her practice as an artist.
For Moffatt, each image was expected to be able to stand on its own, outside of its place in the series. She is a precise director who storyboards her work and casts ordinary people instead of actors or models. Presented in full, Laudanum showed the gothic tendency in Moffatt’s work. It spoke directly to the subconscious and the powerful potential of images made by artists.
Tracey Moffatt is one of Australia’s most renowned contemporary artists. Working predominantly in photography, film and video, Moffatt is known as a powerful visual storyteller. The narrative is often implied and self-referential, exploring her own childhood memories, and the broader issues of race, gender, sexuality and identity.
Moffatt has held over 100 solo exhibitions of her work in Europe, the United States and Australia. Her films, including Nightcries – A Rural Tragedy (1989), and beDevil (1993), have been screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the Dia Centre for the Arts in New York and the National Centre for Photography in Paris.
Her most recent work, titled A Haunting, is a site-specific installation situated inside a small, dark farmhouse off the Castlereagh Highway in rural New South Wales. The dilapidated 1920s built house sits on confiscated lands of the Wailwan peoples and other nearby language groups. It radiates a pulsing red light, bringing to light the bloody history of Colonial settlement and of Indigenous skirmishes with pastoralists.