One of the impacts of the pandemic and the universal order to stay at home has been the inescapable confrontation with ourselves. Our ordinarily busy lives, crammed with productivity, commitments and socialising, have been abruptly exchanged for time alone with our thoughts. In a strange turn of events, photographer Matthieu Croizier had almost pre-empted this confrontation with self when he embarked on a form of creative isolation in his apartment to create a body of work titled, Everything Goes Dark a Little Further Down. “I had locked myself in my home in Lausanne, so I just continued when the Covid-19 lockdowns happened,” Croizier says. “I was alone and my mood was constantly changing. I went a bit mad at times, as it was very intense, but at the same time, it was great to be experimenting.” The project, which had been in research and development for several months, investigates the concept of ordinary monstrosity – unravelling the boundaries between what is thought of as normal and abnormal, using the body as a primary material. The photographs depict an extraordinary act of metamorphosis. Fragments are melded together to create something new that conjures up visions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Claude Cahun’s shapeshifting expressions of identity. Our sense of perception is destabilised as he uses the photograph as a space to shape and complicate notions of self-representation. “There are endless iconographies relating to this concept. Diane Arbus documented the lives of people considered outsiders, while medical images define what is anatomically correct,” Croizier continues. “It’s fascinating how we hold on to these binary ideas of beauty and the body, actively distinguishing between what is normal and abnormal, sick and healthy, beautiful and ugly. I wanted to blur these ideas with this work and show that monstrosity exists within us all.” Croizier’s research examined the construction of monstrosity throughout history, from the invention of hysteria in the 19th century to the role of freak shows. “Staging was essential, and images were manipulated to play a vital role in reinforcing the norm. Freak shows ended when people started to identify with the people shown as freaks. This really fascinated me.” In addition, he references Giovanni Battista de’ Cavalieri etchings, Geneviève Regnault’s Les Ecarts de la Nature, David Lynch’s Eraserhead, and Tod Browning’s controversial film Freaks. These visuals collide with medical iconography that seeks to perpetuate normative representations of the body. “I began thinking about to what extent is a body a body? And how can it free itself from the norms that constrain it? The monstrosity, which seems disturbing at first, ends up revealing its own construction.” When Croizier started shooting, he parked his extensive research and opted for a more intuitive approach. Using simple, everyday items, he embodied his own sense of monstrosity. The resulting images and photobook are both strange and magical. Orientated in the physicality of the experience, he builds tension and ambiguity to shape and complicate his concept. The interpretations are no longer definitive but occupy a sense of duality with limitless outcomes. “I have always identified with freaks and monsters, feeling othered by my queerness. This idea of claiming my own ‘freak’ was a great thing for me. It really helped me become who I am.”
Everything Goes Dark a Little Further Down highlights the paradoxical nature of photography, illustrating both its indexical nature, as well as its ability to conjure fiction. Through Croizier’s bodily interference, he expresses how we as humans are mutable, reminding us that even when the world stands still, and everything appears to remain the same, we are always evolving.
Text written by Art director Gem Fletcher, published in Creative Review, february 2021