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Erin Solomons

MA work

the 'Vulnerably Defective Forgetfulness' or 'VDF' series

My current research is based on historical photojournalistic and psychiatric definitions of the defective body. Two eras of interest are the Civil War and the Great Depression in America. During the mid-nineteenth century, the beginnings of photojournalism deflated Romantic notions about heroism and death through everyday imagery. This tradition of the objective portrayal of reality continued in Walker Evans’ silent images of the American South during the Great Depression. These points in time are riddled with abandonment, intimacy, and detachment; and are a core part of my evaluation of portraiture in comparison to current self-harm performance. By taking a psychology-based perspective, and playing with the insinuated presence of the body in landscape, I investigate the fluctuating dynamic between empathy and suffering.

Questions within my project look at the existence of emotions that American culture invokes, which are not given an active place. How can absence have a presence within landscape that implies the vulnerable body? How has the sacrifice of the body, through physical labor during the Industrial Revolution, become a sacrifice of the inner self in current status of consumerism? Can witnessing the body as a live object be used as an empathic metaphor for the dynamic between wandering, the creation and destruction of space, and intimate isolation? The key question of my project is whether the pain associated within psychical suffering can be made into objective truths, which can fuel the limitless expansion of experienced space?


  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA Photography, 2015

  • If the isolation that is encouraged by self-assertive individualism is utilised to fuel capitalism in America, then how does it’s increasingly codependent relationship with its people affect their everyday gestures, which form their lives? Otto Friedrich Bollnow (2011: 19), philosopher, wrote that 'space is a medium of human life' through which experience can transform a finite space into an infinite space. The culture of defectiveness, as defined through science, has become prevalent to the extent that it is regarded as guidance similar to religion (Heidegger, 1977). However, if the consumption of goods is a democratising force (Trachtenberg, 1990: 219), then the communal understanding about the defective individual body can create a social bonding with this emotionally detached view of the body. Through the implementation of collective guilt, Thomas Szasz (1974: 148), psychiatrist, wrote that individual responsibility is alleviated. However, homogeny hinders the creation of experienced space (Bollnow, 2011: 44).

    My past works stem from subject matter about the affects of personal interaction, or lack there of, and how intrusive reality can be on the self. Over the past couple of years, my research has been about the usage of idealisations in landscape to discuss taboo states of mind or behaviour, such as cutting.

    The goal of my intended research to show how the emotional detachment of experiencing the body as an object without the presence of it, can open an avenue for a relationship between empathic connections with feelings, like loneliness, and notions of honesty. This is how the combination of historical traumatised landscapes and mental illness formed. If a child receives a lack of emphatic care, then strong boundaries are not made between the self and reality. If the self is weak, then reality can become intrusive (Guignon, 2008: 125). If surrounding space conditions a person’s life, then investigations into space are about the transcendental nature of humanity (Bollnow, 2011: 24). Jean-Martin Charcot, neurologist, used the photographic image as an attempt to extricate a hysterical patient’s symptom (Baer, 2005: 30). His images of patients depicted them in a masculine definition of womanhood, as either a corpse or machine. I would like to further investigate the idea of a ‘living’ corpse, and gestures as a physical fulfilment of inner needs. In addition to being a metaphorical statement about intimate emotion and the industrial, the juxtaposition of references to the body merged with metal is an important factor in my evaluation about historical American photography. 

    By tracing representations of the defective body back to the artisan-entrepreneurial beginning in America, I can begin to trace the origins of the utilisation of codependent emotions. Transient self-interested behaviour creates a social friction based around isolation, instead of community (Guignon, 2008: 166)). Therefore, the establishment of sufficient intimate connection can prove difficult. However, in contrast to noise, if a silent space can be made where feelings of fragility and vulnerability are confrontational, then steps can be made towards dispassionate observation. As Alan Trachtenberg (1990: 284), professor of American Studies at Yale University, writes, America is a country based on gestures to create a space, and is a culture of anonymity. I would like to further cement this postulation with experience that result in habits of self-harm. When people disorderly collide into each other, due to fluctuations in needs of space, the loss of space cannot be penetrable (Bollnow, 2011: 37). If I can create an allegory to discuss and give a voice to specific taboo behaviours, then this empathic information can be a source of knowledge about the intangibilities of suffering.


    Baer, U. 2005. Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma, USA: MIT Press. 
    Bollnow, O.F. 2011. Human Space, London: Hyphen. 
    Guignon, C. 2008. On Being Authentic. London: Routledge.
    Heidegger, M. 1977. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. London: HarperPerennial.
    Szasz, T. 2010. The Myth Of Mental Illness; Foundations Of A Theory Of Personal Conduct. New York: Harper Perennial.
    Trachtenberg, A. 1990. Reading American Photographs, Images As History, Mathew Brady To Walker Evans. New York: Hill & Wang.

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons) Art Practice, Goldsmiths' College, University of London, 2012; BA Fine Arts: Visual Communications, American Intercontinental University, 2012; BA (Hons) Visual Communications, London South Bank University, 2012
  • Experience

  • Darkroom technician, American Intercontinental University, London, 2009–11
  • Exhibitions

  • SKIN/CELLS, Fringe! Film Fest, London, 2014; Topography Disarranged: Landscape, Dislocation, and Space, Queen of Hungary, Norfolk, 2014; Interim Show, Royal College of Art, London, 2014; Border Bodies | Mixing Cities, Palazza Barone Ferrara, Bari, 2013; Hot-One-Hundred, Schwartz Gallery, London, 2013; Ludlow Open, the Harley Centre, Ludlow, 2013; The International Art Festival, 25CPW Gallery, New York, 2013; The Celeste Prize Exhibition, Musei-Capitolini-Centrale Montemartini, Rome, 2012; National Open Art Competition, The Prince's Foundation, London, 2012; SAL Summer Exhibition, The Brick Lane Gallery Annexe, London, 2012; Photography Open Salon, Galerie Huit, Arles, 2012; Undergraduate Show, Goldsmiths College, London, 2012; Worldwide Photography Biennial Exhibition, Borges Cultural Center, Buenos Aires, 2012; Photography Open Salon, Charlie Dutton Gallery, London, 2011; D&AD New Blood, Old Truman Brewery, London, 2011; 'Untitled (Salt)', Private Residence, London, 2011; Undergraduate Show, American Intercontinental University, London, 2011
  • Publications

  • 'Ellipsis' journal, Vol. A, London, May 2014; 'Hysteria' magazine, Vol. 1, Square Knot Publishing, London, January 2014; 'Hysteria' magazine, Vol. 5, Square Knot Publishing, London, January 2015