An examination of the "human experience" in a body of work at the Gallery of Photography concentrates more on life's anxieties than assurances writes Billy Leahy
Trish Morrissey points to a photograph of two gawky teens posing with their pet rabbit in a faceless front garden. A pebbledash wall acts as the backdrop, while generic suburbia escapes, unchecked, into the distance. "Every single element in the photographs is a considered choice – down to a lettuce leaf, even," she explains.
Neither party in this 'family photograph' seems particularly happy – in fact, through the whole series, tension and a barely hidden disquiet seems to parade effortlessly.
Seven Years, the body of photographic work from Morrissey, currently on show in the Gallery of Photography, recreates family album snap shots, borrowing nostalgia and aesthetic from the 1970s and 1980s. Morrissey is a thrift store raider, an attic sifter, a second hand shop seeker; these are the spots where the props and costumes used in her elaborately staged photographs are rummaged through and dug up.
The semi-biographical, semi-fictional stories told by the photographs have also been excavated from the past, but the characters in these mock scenarios are Morrissey and her elder sister. The siblings impersonate fictional and real family members, while the title of the works refers to the age gap between the two sisters.
Morrissey stages each photograph in and around her family home in Dublin, as the characters re-enact memories familiar to us all, such as birthday parties. However, it is apparent in every shot through the body language and expressions of the characters, that a certain unease is present.
In some, psychological tension between the family members is clearly palpable, while in others like the seaside shot on 8 August 1982 – a work that seems to owe rather too much to the aesthetic of Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra – we see a teenager clearly uncomfortable with her own physical development.
Two video works also feature in the Gallery of Photography exhibition, with Eighteen and Forty Five providing the highpoint of the show. This piece shows Morrissey and her mother, both decapitated by the frame and wearing the same wedding dress, dancing beside a washing-line to Glen Miller's 'Moonlight Serenade'.
The dress was originally worn by Morrissey's mother 45 years previously at her wedding, and was later used by an 18-year-old Morrissey at her formal school ball, with the title referring to the time when both women 'came of age'. Like the other video work, Eleven and Three Quarters, Morrissey seems to be delving into what underlies life's dreams and ambitions, and the harsh realities that at times can see these very hopes and ideals founder.
Indeed she has stated that all three series offer "an examination of the human experience" and that "right down to the individual level, small everyday anxieties are explored". Morrissey succeeds in doing this, by making us reassess fairly banal scenarios in her photographs, whether a "coming of age" moment or the arrival of a new family member.
However, the staged scenes Morrissey sets seem overly contrived and slightly light-weight in terms of concept. Sure, sometimes we all smile for the camera when we don't want to see one of our desires escape from our grasp, but what Morrissey's work adds through their exploration of these moments is difficult to see. Like the boy chasing an elusive rabbit in Eleven and Three Quarters, the reasoning behind – and basic point of Morrissey's work also remains slightly out of reach.
?More Trish Morrissey's Seven Years runs in the Gallery of Photography, Temple Bar until 3 April