Having attended my fair share of student photography exhibitions, I can note with some degree of certainty that work on the level of technical and thematic maturity evidenced in Cara Gillougley’s Withdrawal & Emergence is rare. This exquisite collection of nudes suspended in paradoxical states of bondage and freedom is playful and somber in equal measure; conformed by pure visual allure. Needless to say, it garnered considerable attention for this young graduate from the Ruth Prowse School of Art in Cape Town.
According to Gillougley, the concept for this exhibition emerged fairly late on in her third year of studies, triggered by trauma and in turn becoming a means to rid herself of these negative emotions.
The driving force behind this body of work was my withdrawal to a dark emotional place, and my emergence from that darkness. The photographs deal with themes of underlying emotional and psychological torment and obsession; both metaphor and catharsis.
Though the recurrence of rope bondage in Withdrawal & Emergence is perhaps most readily associated with fetishism and sexual deviance, Gillougley’s subjects are bound and strung up as a metaphor for internal constraint. The staging of her subjects and the stage itself evoke the circus, not simply as an aesthetic centre point, but also to explore notions of psychological game play, manipulation, strength and vulnerability. Being her first body of work on public display, it seems justified to equate the susceptibility and precariousness of the women in this collection with the art-school-graduate’s own position at the threshold of professionalism. But regardless of any specific context, the photographic act is invariably one of self-implication for Cara Gillougley.
I’ve realised that my work is driven entirely by my emotional state of being. As long as I photograph honestly, my work allows me to view my innermost workings and confront them. Ultimately it’s a piece of me sitting on a computer screen or photographic paper. I cannot separate myself from my work because, in a sense, my life becomes my work.
By Dylan Culhane
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