Rosy Martin

Gravity: Gravitas

Gravity: Gravitas Rosy Martin in collaboration with Verity Welstead

This project aims to challenge attitudes towards ageing. By turning the camera unflinchingly on our own ‘real and lived-in’ bodies, we made images that were often initially difficult to accept. We chose to examine our bodies for those infamous ‘signs of ageing’ that advertisers and the media focus upon: wrinkles on our hands and faces, widening waistlines and sagging bellies. Using a macro lens, we made these strange through extreme close up, cropping, and active performances. How mysteriously could we show our bodies so that the viewer would be uncertain as to what they were looking at? We found these acts of defamiliarisation, or ‘making strange’ a very useful strategy, especially when dealing with subjects that can be too often simplified or “cliched”, and indeed for women surveying their bodies too often loaded with feelings of disgust and disaffection learnt from dominant media or the Internet’s replication of idealised (unobtainable) perfection and advertising. Defamiliarisation offered a way for us to move, albeit slowly and with some apprehension towards playing with our representations of ourselves.

Body as landscape: by referencing Mikhail Bakhtin and his work on Rabelais and his notions of ‘grotesque realism’, this was a playful and humorous exercise in how grotesque it was possible to make flesh look. Whilst initially we did want these images to be strange, even repellent and shocking the more important aspect was to show just how ordinary, commonplace and ubiquitous real lived-in flesh is.

We decided to search for beige or taupe clothes, that all too ubiquitous supposedly safe older women’s colour choice. We took it in turns in front of the camera and bounced ideas from one another. Wrinkled tights, awkward stances, hiding within and behind beige, curling up on the floor and struggling to get up, or even allowing myself to look as if I was out for the day from a care home, we were playing with appearances and allowing ourselves to make the worst of it. Rosy’s mother’s woollen vest, in soft beige offered us a unifying image pairing, an honesty which we both embraced for ‘Studies in Beige’.

See essay ‘Outrageous Ageing as Activism’ in ‘Feminist Art Activisms and Artivisms’ Ed K. Deepwell Valiz Netherlands 2020


About the Artist

Artist Website

Rosy Martin (born London 1946) is an artist-photographer, psychological-therapist, workshop leader, lecturer and writer. She explores the relationships between photography, memory, identities and unconscious processes using self-portraiture, still life photography and video.

Starting in 1983, working with the late Jo Spence, she evolved and developed a new photographic practice- phototherapy – incorporating re-enactments. Through embodiment, they explored the psychic and social construction of identities within the drama of the everyday. Her ‘therapeutic gaze’ provides a safe space for exploring one’s own stories in profoundly innovative ways.

Exhibiting Internationally and publishing widely since 1985, she has investigated issues including gender, sexuality, ageing, class, location, shame and family dynamics. Her photographic practice is grounded in research, the subjects arise from personal lived experiences, yet communicate to a broad audience. For example in ‘Transforming the suit: what does a lesbian look like?’ 1987 she played with different historical and contemporary stereotypes to challenge simplistic assumptions.

She used still life and video in ‘Too close to home?’ to explore the experiences of pre-bereavement, loss, grief and reparation by focusing upon her childhood home as a metaphor/metonym for both her father and mother, anticipating and mourning their deaths. She researched working-class suburban life inspired by this semi-detached house, almost unchanged since the 1930s. In ‘The end of the line’ she photographed through tears a soft and melancholy goodbye to her roots.

On turning fifty, her focus became contesting the dominant representations of ageing women, a subject she has returned to in her seventies. Using humour, play and parody the ageing body is reconfigured as present, joyous and defiant.

Martin has run intensive experiential phototherapy workshops and given lectures in Universities and Galleries throughout Britain, the USA, Canada, Eire and Finland. She also ran workshops in community settings, including a women’s prison, projects with survivors of sexual abuse and school-based projects on digital identities. She held lecturing posts in photographic theory, art history and visual culture at Universities in UK.