Collection

Isabella
Peter Peryer

2001

Peter Peryer
b.
1941
Title:
Isabella
Production date:
2001
Accession No:
2001/1
Measurements:
371 x 242mm
Media:
silver gelatin print

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth

Peter Peryer’s photograph Isabella plays games with our perception. At first glance it appears to be an image of a newborn infant, nestled into white hospital sheets and drowsily raising one arm. On closer inspection, however, Isabella is revealed as a photograph of a doll, and an uncannily lifelike one. As Peryer has confirmed, this is a medical model. Designed as a stand-in for the real thing, it (she?) helps prepare fledgling doctors for handling a live infant. She has even been equipped with that marker of independent identity — a name.

Peryer’s photographs have a particular quality of stillness which marks them out from the glut of photographic images with which our contemporary world is saturated. None of Peryer’s images are quick snapshots; each is the result of a long gestational period of patient planning and consideration. They make manifest a careful kind of scrutiny which invests mundane objects with other qualities; sometimes eerie, sometimes comical, always enigmatic. Peryer’s camera is a tool for seeing the world differently. He makes the commonplace mysterious.

Isabella the photograph is a carefully staged representation of Isabella the doll, who is herself a carefully constructed representation. Both photograph and doll are designed to seduce us into forgetting that they only mimic reality. Peryer’s photograph is slightly out of focus, imitating the bleary, blurry world view of a newborn child who sees with soft and unpractised eyes. The doll herself seems to be struggling to focus on something just to the left of the viewer’s head. It is difficult to insist that Isabella is not a ‘she’ but an ‘it’. Peryer cracks open photography’s claims of neutrality, showing that while the camera might not lie, the truth can be a slippery thing to pin down. Isabella is an image that oscillates between something known and recognisable and something creepily, uncannily unreal.