Lily Georgina Simmons
Gallery 40 Brighton
Review written by Grace Madeleine Slater
Lily Georgina Simmons is a Photographic Artist whose autobiographical work explores themes of the family, fear and mental health. Simmons graduated from the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Photography and is about to embark on her Master of Arts in Photography at the University of Brighton this September. Most of Simmons’ work is shot in the home environment using the artist or her family as subjects.
At the beginning of June, Simmons put on her first solo show in the city of Brighton. Set within the white walls of Gallery 40, a space available for hire by artists of all mediums, the exhibition showcased a collection of work from across all of her main series. Spread over two floors, every wall featured photography of a range of scales, with a very even balance of traditional black and white and saturated colour images. All framed in a commercial style, the work was set up to be seen and sold.
Before we even entered the gallery we were greeted by a large format print in the window front. The image shows the artist’s mother sprawled out on top of an unmade bed, wearing black lingerie with her arms above her head. The expression on the woman’s face is that of a person mid conversation, appearing as though this photograph was taken in action, it catches her eyes rolling backwards which also implies a moment caught “in the heat of passion”. The way the arms lay support this overly sexual implication. This image has many ways in which it can be read, making it a bold choice to have hung in the window as an introduction to the rest of the work.
This particular image is one from the series “Sexualising” during the creation of which Simmons accidentally sexualised her mother through her own naivety. Having begun by looking at the ageing process and discovering her mother’s discomfort with the camera, Simmons decided to push this further by making her mother perform for the camera, exploring both her own and her mother’s response to this. Simmons began to stage her mother in her underwear, smothered in pearls, giving a very obvious pornographic nature to the imagery, one of a number of metaphors that revealed itself to her during the process of making the work. The images are bold in colour and the use of flash gives an urgency to the images that really compliment the accidental nature of the work.
On the same floor as “Sexualising” hung the series “It was time”. This body of work was created off the back of “Sexualising”, where this time Simmons explores her father as a sexual being. The artist explores her frustration and discomfort with the attention her father receives and attempts to make him unappealing. She does this by having him pose in women’s underwear with objects known to be grotesque such as organs and dead animals. This series is arguably one of Simmons’ most controversial bodies of work, having received mixed feedback since its creation. The nature of the work can be hard to grasp at first and a young woman photographing her father naked as he performs in a way that deliberately uses his sexuality to shock, is problematic for some. The series is very classically shot in black and white, which traditionalises the content and references classic nude photography, taking inspiration from that of Helmut Newton and Robert Mapplethorpe. The collection of work displayed in the show was very well chosen, deliberately omitting the more explicit images that would perhaps require a restriction of viewership but displaying enough to make the audience want to seek out more of the series.
Downstairs there are a further two projects, both very personal to the artist in a way very different from the others. Firstly, the self-portrait series “I once had a friend named Glenn”. This body of work explores the grieving process of theartist after the loss of a dear friend. It shows the artist “sofa surfing” over two nights, capturing every hour of her time on the sofa. The artist explains that her friend Glenn had sofa surfed for a period of his life and this was her way of connecting with him one last time and to pay homage to his life. The work was displayed in two grids, one for each night, and explores the use of typologies within photography and the impact of repetition on storytelling. This quirky approach makes the sombre nature of this work more accessible for others, lightening the experience and allows us, the audience, to get to know Glenn in our own way.
The highlight of the show had to be the unveiling of Simmon’s new series “Touch”. Three black and white digital prints all extreme in their variations of scale, sat along the back wall of the basement, depicting a sequence of hands, flowers and an ominous looking male face. The artist created this body of work as a way of dealing with a memory of a sexual assault that happened years prior but was recently brought to the surface in a therapy session. Again, she uses a traditional black and white, almost still life aesthetic to reference the importance of detail in memory, but also to consider photography itself and how it is used more and more so as a form of art therapy. The use of flowers and their many connotations allow for a very open understanding of the work, letting the viewer decide whether they are supposed to see sexuality, growth, beauty, fragility or strength, or even all and none of the above. This extremely personal and brave series is topical in its nature and yet timeless in its appearance. A real show stealer and must-see.
Grace Madeleine Slater
Lily Georgina Simmons