The work of Annabel Elgar inhabits a more elaborate and gothic world of storytelling. Narrative here is not something that has been pared away but something that has been embellished and layered. The stories that lie behind these pictures are ones that extend back into a dark folk memory. Elements of legend, fairy tale and historical anecdote jostle with hack journalism, urban myth and B-movie storylines. The scenarios that emerge from this process of allegorical bricolage are ones that we instinctively recognize because, baroque though they might be, we encounter them every day in our newspapers and televisions and at night-time we visit them again in our dreams.

Annabel Elgar's sources are more mythic than literary or art historical, but they also operate through the sense of a shared set of scripts. Her carefully designed sets are sets for plays that will never be fully dramatised and whose full story will never be known: the actors may never appear within the frame- and if they do they will probably be looking the other way, their faces invariably hidden. The props have been carefully chosen to produce an endless proliferation of narrative choices, artfully posed between the fairytale and the everyday. The key characters in her half-told stories inhabit houses that we faintly recognise but they are clearly deranged and obsessive, dressing up in strange costumes, waiting for parties that will never happen, tying themselves up in the curtains, playing with ventriloquists' dummies, or setting the garden shed alight.

Elgar inserts a bleak Orwellian vision of sad bedsits, neglected kitchens and subterranean basements into a folkloric scenery of suspiciously lush green fields, tangled gardens and dark forests. If the uncanny is characterised by a sense of the unfamiliar suddenly revealing itself within the familiar, then it is surely Elgar's photographs that most effectively work at binding these two senses together. In her case she uses the conventions of staged photography to knit them together materially, arranging the objects in her pictures into enigmatic compositions that resist any clear resolution.

The stories that Elgar relates to us are cross-cut by familiar themes: madness and sadness and badness all have their role to play in these scenarios. In these stories the struggles between the rich and the poor are relentless and eternal, the home is a place of poverty and ruin, the family a potential site of treachery and despair.

Joanna Lowry, 'An Imaginary Place' from Theatres of the Real
Photoworks/FotoMuseum Antwerp


Annabel Elgar