The cover shows the image of a woman, her dress suggesting we might be in the mid-60’s, the light and the grain of the photograph feel like it emerged from a long-forgotten drawer in somebody’s house. But what we notice most of all is the smile of this woman, the quiet amusement she shows below the fake thin moustache drawn over her lips. Inside the book, a private album unfolds in front of us: recurrent faces, places, memories from different times intertwine. We begin to connect imaginary dots among the different people, relationships, mothers and fathers, married couples - and her. A day at the beach, a birthday party, a walk in the woods: the woman in the cover keeps reappearing over and over. The title of the book reads Queen Ann. P. S. Belly cut off, by Dutch artist Mariken Wessels.
Is Ann the name of the woman on the cover? Probably so, and after a few pages she is wearing a wedding dress; then she is holding a glass for a toast, in love. Pages (and years) go by, and we see her face and her body change, gaining weight, losing beauty, the light in her eyes changing. The growing weight of her body is reflected by the weight of a mask of make up on her eyes, by the line of her mouth losing any grace. What happened to her? What was her suffering, who was responsible? Throughout the whole book, we see some photos altered by drawings, childish decorations added on top of her clothes and her face; earlier on, other pictures have details cut off: erased faces, scratches on the surface, a silent and constant struggle with the past and with its memories.
The found photos are reproduced often on a full page or a double spread - overblown, with no borders, enhancing details hidden in those private images now turned into an art object. An envelope concealed between two pages of the book contains a few small prints, bringing us back to what all the content of the book probably used to be, little pieces of paper to hold in the hands. The beauty and the cruelty of photography find in this book the perfect expression of how the can merge into each other: nailing somebody’s image to the factual loss of her past beauty and yet suggesting the inner struggle for some vitality, and the fantasy that, despite everything, can still inhabit somebody’s heart and mind.
Wessels managed to create a fascinating subtext which flows through every single image, like a distant music sweetening even the hardest moments. Through the end, the photographs become increasingly blurred, showing Ann outside, perhaps in a beautiful park, in one photo she seems to smile. The back cover of the book shows her from behind, standing next to a tree, while looking at the bright sky.
After having seen her face so many times in the book, in this last photo we are finally free to imagine her, as she is maybe imagining herself as a different person, while staring at the sun.
After all photography can show the invisible, and appearances can often be deceitful.
- Queen Ann. P.S. Belly Cut Off. By Mariken Wessels. Alauda Publications.
All images © Mariken Wessels/Alauda Publications