Family portraits are some of the most surreal forced expressions of togetherness. Aching smiles and laboured enthusiasm; in some cases to hide deep-rooted resentment and bitter tears. All together for a brief moment and then the picture is uploaded onto the net, for we are all now our own Public Relations agents. I came across the work of Colin Batty in a newspaper and this led me to further investigate the curious, the bizarre collected in The Peculiarium. His images are a photographic depiction of a Victorian-esque Twin Peaks world. Nothing is what it seems! The teenage girl metamorphosing into a caterpillar. The sailor boy uniformed smart with groomed curls hiding a slug like tale. The hairy bat legged twins.
The works are a series of cabinet cards – late 19th and early 20th Century formal portraits – which he modifies painstakingly by hand.
The photos suggest their own stories, some are just crying out for me to stick something in there.
People are obsessed with oddities and creating them. I recall being in a music festival in Scotland, a guy went into one of the Portaloo cabins. It was blazing heat so he wore only a kilt and a six-pack stomach that had long been lost, shaped now by six packs of cheap lager. His troop of friends very kindly decided, whilst their buddy was making his toilet, that they would tip up the booth. After lots of jovial laughter and angry cries from inside the upturned box, the chap emerged from the wreckage blue, laced with wet, used toilet paper and other foreign objects. He looked like a 1970s Dr Who monster. People knew to stare at this oddity was wrong but still did. Alas, while a little water (really a sharp strong shower) would relieve him of this deed, it was one day into a four-day festival and I hazard a guess that the drunken clan would not be ‘glamping’, but sleeping where they fell down.
This obsession with things that look out of place can be excellently illustrated in cinematic classics like Freaks and The Elephant Man. In modern times we have the rise of the reality show, where the odder the behaviour the higher the ratings. I think I may take inspiration from Colin Batty’s Peculiarium and re-visit some of my own family albums. I am sure that the odd distant relative could benefit from a bit of a freak up. After all, one of my Dad’s side actually sold the house of 40 years and blew her kids’ inheritance on her very own re-maintenance programme. Now she looks younger than a foetus!