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Performing to Camera: A Photoshoot with Elly Clarke

"Wait, what shoes are we going to wear!?"
Photo by Elly Clarke

It is early morning on Saturday 21st of March and we are in our kitchen with Elly Clarke, who has arrived at our Balfron Tower live-work studio, ready as we'll ever be for our big photo shoot for #Camden50. Ironically, while we are used to being photographed during our performances, we are much more bashful in front of the camera at home. Elly, an experienced portrait photographer and one of the other #Camden50 commissioned artists, suggests we take a few warm up shots without our makeup and costumes, going about our normal Saturday morning work in the studio. This proves harder than it sounds. To be honest, we made an effort for the shoot: we cleaned up a little around our usually messy studio, full of paper cuttings, glitter in hard to reach places, dubious late night design ideas, yesterday's coffee cups and tea mugs. We even went to the trouble of coordinating our off-duty costumes; both of us are in polka dot shirts. Mind, we had been working together only a short time before we used to turn up in matching outfits to art school, without such shrewd planning! We find ourselves sitting opposite one another at our work desk, laptops out, caffeinated and buzzing with excitement as we talk about our upcoming commission which inspires in us a mixture of delight and terror: "It is awesome!" Ana says, Renee agrees.

Taking on such a big commission is the stuff of dreams but it also has the burden of responsibility, especially to our audience for whom we will be reporting on our #Camden50 designated themes, that is to say, looking at the role of pioneering women and the legacy of radical press in Camden as the borough celebrates its 50th birthday. All this, with the overarching grand narrative of 'democracy' and 'innovation’, no less! This is what is running through our minds as we try to look natural in front of Elly's camera for what we have named over the years 'the trustworthy shot' —you know, the serious studio shot of entrepreneurial duos you might see in any of the too-cool-for-school offset printed and meticulously crafted design magazines that are plentiful in east London.

Elly is genuine and friendly with us, as soon as we start talking about our practice and our plans for #Camden50 we drop our guard, plucking zines from the shelves to show her, pointing out our rainbow wigs and custom-made catsuits we ordered online, the poster Renee designed while at school and the flowers we confess we bought for the shoot because they match our red and yellow studio pom poms. We are eager to impress! Elly asks us to pose by the bookshelf, against the bright green walls she thinks will look good on camera. Incidentally, our communal bookshelf only has one book in common; we have two identical copies of Jacques Lacan's Écrits: A Selection. You can tell a lot about a person based on the books they read, this tells you how different we are as individuals, but maybe that is a good thing when you are a Lady of the Press* or indeed any creative partnership. A lot of creativity comes from differences of opinion and temperament. Our bookshelf also has two copies of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams but that was required reading during our art school days spent in UCL's French Department studying comparative literature, so it doesn't count! It is also the book the brought us together as a duo, but that is another story for another time. We share this book anecdote with Elly as she clicks away with her camera. She instructs us in a few more poses but we are still rather self-conscious and stiff. Then, out of the blue, Renee makes an off-hand comment which none of us can quite remember that, at the time, was uttered with considerable urgency of tone! It was something like "Wait, what colour shoes are we going to wear!?" to the upcoming #Camden50 launch. We all burst out laughing! That's another thing, we have two mottos at Ladies of the Press*: never forget the quirk and never forget the detail. We’ll leave you guessing which one said what!