To say that Dorothy O’Connor is a photographer is an understatement. O’Connor’s recent one-night tableau vivant at her studio in Southwest Atlanta proved that additional titles are in order: costume designer, set builder, collector, and maybe even “imagineer” (but without the Disney undertones). Much in the same vein as other photography greats (Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, and Gregory Crewdson come to mind), O’Connor creates two equally impressive worlds within her work: the scene captured before her camera lens and the physical environment she creates for her tableaus by using found materials from thrift stores and eBay, and other ephemera.
The ever-reliable Wikipedia describes tableaux vivants, or “living pictures” in English, as “a striking group of suitably costumed actors or artist’s models, carefully posed and often theatrically lit. Throughout the duration of the display, the people shown do not speak or move. The approach thus marries the art forms of the stage with those of painting/photography.”
O’Connor’s recent tableau merged the theatrical and the photographic in the small garage studio that hosted several installments of her Scenes series. On Saturday evening, the studio became a stage for a crowd of around one hundred. Suddenly the viewers became as much a part of the narrative as the original image itself.
The photographic image of Room pristinely depicts a woman in a sweeping ball gown standing with her arms crossed in a Victorian room where a snowy landscape has invaded the household. Nature, embodied by the environment surrounding the figure, encroaches on her dress. Her arms are curled tightly into her body, a pose which appears to belong to both traditional portraiture as well as a more defensive, introverted gesture of remembrance. The portraits surrounding the figure perhaps imply the people and the life she struggles to remember and salvage. The woman’s elegant dress is now covered in leaves, snow, dead flowers, and old abandoned wasps’ nests.
The one-night event, titled Tableau, added an additional dimension to the work. The audience created a “third wall,” and the bodies crammed into the front half of the garage formed a kind of orchestral pit for the theatre created in O’Connor’s back yard. The spectators’ observations as they identified various elements in the photographed room added layers of meaning beyond what was simply contained in the image.
The murmurs and excitement of the crowd were great, but the strength of O’Connor’s imagery is what allowed the happening to be so successful. The attention to detail extended to the string lights and chandeliers that lit the yard, which were all subtly constructed and combined to set the perfect scene.