Anthony Lycett — Self Styled
Past: January 9 → February 27, 2016
Galerie Isabelle Gounod presents Anthony Lycett’s first exhibition in Paris. Lycett is a London based photographer whose work with portraiture has encompassed the sub-cultures of London and Paris. His analytical approach is dedicated to documenting forms of self-representation that elevate aesthetics to cult status. The exhibition offers a look at his most recent body of work, continuing a process spanning close to a decade of capturing the subjects of particular social currents.
Self-Styled started in 2008 and is now comprised of more than 200 diptychs capturing eccentrics, dandies, punks, goths, transvestites and the avant-garde of London and Paris. Dress as a method of political protest began as a particularly English characteristic during the 18th century1However, Dandyism was a post-revolutionary movement which animated members of the middle class in both London and Paris from around 1790. Though originally associated with elegant fashion and refined language, Baudelaire suggested: ‘Dandyism, which is an institution outside the law, has a rigorous code of laws that all its subjects are strictly bound by, however ardent and independent their individual characters may be.’2 His description of the dichotomy of dissent and appropriation, eccentricity and uniformity inherent to Dandyism can be easily applied to later punk, goth, transvestite and avant-garde movements. These are modes of expression fabricated for rethinking the common and fetishistic.
They mean to exemplify a broader perception of reality that operates in peripheral frameworks of self- reflection. Dandyism’s refined appearance was coupled with an affected indifference to it, not unlike the image of today’s hipster. Among the self-proclaimed dandies were Oscar Wilde, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol, however this term stems even further back to the 12th century’s conception of the cointerrels which had a female counterpart called cointrelles. There was the brief appearance in the 19th century of the dandyess or dandizette who were largely seen as eccentrically over-dressed. In 1819, the novel ‘Charms of Dandyism’ was published by Olivia Moreland, the leader of the female dandizette, though believed to be the nom de plume of Thomas Ashe.
The subjects of Lycett’s diptychs are not necessarily leaders of a given style, nor are they models. They reflect the plurality of individuals within any ‘type’, the continuation of aesthetic rebellion full of repetitions, idiosyncrasies and social habits. He is often led from one subject to the next, stalking the extension of their personal expression on social media. His interest is in those who have allowed their style to structure every aspect of their daily life. The only formal direction Lycett gives to frame each set of images is that they are of one ‘day’ and one ‘night’ ensemble. Without question, subjects easily produce both, unconsciously cooperating with the prescribed customs of tightened self-awareness in daylight and liberal revelry akin to the cover of darkness.
Many photographers have developed processes or devices for catching an authentic expression from their subjects: Jürgen Teller’s, Go-Sees which caught his willing subjects before entering the studio, Rineke Dijkstra’s ‘Los Forcados’ fresh from a bullfight or New Mothers moments after giving birth. Lycett’s work aligns with these liminal forms of portraiture, however he does not employ the element of surprise or exhausting exercises. His subjects are staging themselves, aware of the professional capturing them. However, the perception of professionalism is met with their own refined sense of presentation. Slippages perceived among unpracticed expressions are bolstered by the opportunity to be ‘taken seriously’. As in Baudelaire’s description of the dandy, they are actors awaiting an audience; however, Lycett is careful to keep reality present. Imperfections meet an institutionalized white backdrop that suggests a process of legitimation his subjects have welcomed. However, these are not the flawless, brushed figurines found on magazine covers. Lycett combines formal documentation with classical portraiture, to expose what happens when the styles crystallized in retro and contemporary popculture are translated by people in the real world, or some might say fanatics. Put at ease by the invitation to wear their own clothes and choose their own posture, he draws them out of obscurity and under the microscope. While they emanate the modern desire to be singular, the force of their excessive detail draws out other questions of normality, points of cultural confluence and consumption.
1 Aileen Ribeiro, “On Englishness in dress” in The Englishness of English Dress, Christopher Breward, Becky Conekin and Caroline Cox, ed., 2002.
2 Charles Baudelaire, essay “The Painter of Modern Life”, 1863. Translation by P.E. Charvet.
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