Over Christmas in Wellington, I managed to get to see Auckland photographer Yvonne Todd’s exhibition, Creamy Psychology, at City Gallery. The exhibition, a survey of her career so far, fills the entire gallery on both levels, it provides an interesting overview of the breadth of her work and includes one space given over to the sources of her inspiration.
Todd’s photography makes for uneasy viewing, it is the kind of work that settles into your head and stays with you like a catchy tune you can’t stop humming even though you can’t quite remember where you picked it up. Certainly I have been wondering about how I’d write about it for days now, only to wake at 3am, struck with a need to get it all down.
The overriding thing that, for me, typifies her aesthetic is an uncomfortable sense that all is not well. The psychological in Todd’s work is eerily evident, but hard to exactly pinpoint. Behind the made-up faces of bored or awkward looking young women is something just a little disconcerting, something that perhaps they don’t know is there. This unease permeates her other subject matter also, there is a sense of being cast adrift, out of place in time or space.
The unnerving familiarity of the work is for me a little close to home as like Todd I grew up on Auckland’s North Shore. Formerly a popular area for holidaying by the calmer eastern facing beaches, this sleepy collection of suburbs was finally made accessible in 1959 when construction of the Auckland Harbour Bridge was finished. The North Shore Hospital (hardly a remarkable building in the greater scheme) resides modestly over the Shore as one of the most distinctive (and for many years one of the tallest) buildings.The iconic character villas of the central Auckland suburbs are a rarity on the Shore where most of the housing is post 1950s construction which gives the neighbourhoods a completely different feel to their over the bridge ‘town’ counterparts. The North Shore still represents a sort of middle-class safety. The madness of suburbia is perpetual waiting.
Yvonne Todd, 2003. Tide [C-type print, 35.4 x 43.2]
It makes sense that this setting was the incubator for Todd’s psychology. I can’t help but sympathise with the desperately uncool new-age nostalgia for time periods not yet distant enough to be truly romanticised. The young women she often depicts exude either a boredom or a anxious awkwardness that is hauntingly familiar of my own experience. When I talk to other expatriates of the Shore, childhood was remarkably similar, usually culminating in gravitating towards a friend with a car in which we could get somewhere else.
Yvonne Todd, 2005. Wet sock [C-type print, 36 x 28.6cm]
Wet sock (2005) has long been my favourite of Todd’s works, and at lying in bed at 3am I might have unlocked why. It is a personal memory I haven’t thought about in a long time. I am nine or ten years old, waiting to picked up from primary school. It is a warmer day on the tail end of winter. The afternoon stretches like an eternity in the almost empty playground and a friend dares me to join her in an experiment. We fill our shoes with water from the drinking fountain, and put our socked feet back inside them. I have never done this since, but I can still very clearly feel that moment, the clingy wetness of my soaked socks, the water escaping between my toes and around the edges of the shoe, the delicious squelch as I walked around. Filled with a secret puckish glee, I concealed this misdemeanour from my mum, wiggling my wet toes unnoticed on the car ride home. My first (perhaps even my only) soggy little rebellion.