Kelli Connell

Kelli Connell lecturing at
Philadelphia Photo Arts Center

 I've been fascinated with Kelli Connell's Double Life series ever since first seeing it in the 2007 Aperture publication PHOTOart: Photography in the 21st Century.  Connell's repetitive use of a single model to tell the fictional story of a relationship between two women is both beautiful and visually confusing all at once. Are these images of two sisters? Twins? Self portraits? What is going on here?

Kelli Connell  discussed her series and process methods during a recent lecture at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. Especially interesting to me were slides of the hand cut montages Connell creates from cheap drug store prints that allow her to visualize the final composition. The work is pure fiction. A single model is used in a complex arrangement of scenes with Connell acting as director, photographer, and sometimes stand-in model for staging purposes. Everything is shot with a medium format Pentax, and then the quick prints are made in order to manually compose and visualize the final digital result. The negatives are then scanned and processed in Photoshop to achieve the seamless results.

I also liked Connell's inclusion of historical reference in her lecture. She showed Henry Peach Robinson's 1858 image Fading Away, made from five negatives, and Oscar Gustave Rejlander's 1857 image The Two Ways of Life, made from at least 30 negatives. Those of us who tend to dismiss Photoshop usage, and Connell admits to a previous bias against the software, tend to forget that it is simply a modern day version of well established photographic processing technique.


Henry Peach Robinson, Fading Away , 1858

Oscar Gustave Rejlander, The Two Ways of Life, 1857

Double Life is a series that began in 2002 and is now almost ten years old. Connell spoke of the subtle pressure she has begun to feel from the art world to move on to other projects, mostly stemming from the inevitable aging of the model.  Personally I would love to see this project continue for many years to come. The themes that run through this conceptual series; narcissism, identity, gender roles, etc., do not end with the transition into middle age. Hopefully, even if Connell takes a break from Double Life to explore other projects, she will return to working with this model and continue documenting the resolution and exploration of those issues within this fictional relationship into its golden years and beyond.

Kelli Connell  website
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