In many of Eyre’s self-portraits, she is doubled, either as twins, or as a divided figure, with different clothes on either side of her body, and sometimes a line down the middle of her face. She’s usually in a strange yet familiar domestic interior, staring at the camera, self-possessed yet ambiguous. She’s both light and dark, domestic and alien.
“I’m very interested in the magic function of the camera, the way you can take something completely unreal and make it look like it really existed,” she says. “When I first made a double image of myself, and was looking at the negative, I thought, ‘Who is that?’ I didn’t recognize myself any more, and I realized I had found how I wanted to work. I want only those images in which I don’t recognize myself.”
Janieta Eyre, “Motherhood” (2002): Toronto-based photographer and filmmaker Janieta Eyre is best known for her surreal double self-portraits that depict her posing in fantastical costumes and placed in historical periods, fantasy, or contemporary domestic settings. Ranging from grotesque, eerie, amusing, cabalistic, quirky, schizophrenic, or in this case, all of the above, her portraits drive at the complex psychological underpinnings of broader life experiences such as motherhood. The evocative images lend themselves to an aesthetic in the tradition of surrealist painters such as Frida Khalo, Leonora Carrington, and Remedios Varo (coincidentally, all Spanish-speaking female artists), but I actually find more commonality with Northern Renaissance painters such as the Master of Flémalle, Hans Memling, Jan Van Eyck than with surrealism. These paintings were read as allegories via iconography, with each prop or set of objects weighted with symbolic significance. Kahlo’s expressive iconography (example) comes close in this regard. The sheep’s head suggestive of sacrament but cradled like an infant, the red cross on the two-headed Eyre’s blouse, the mirror, and the circular chart of runes, all suggest some cryptic allegory whose symbolic deciphering remains nebulous.
“I’m very interested in the magic function of the camera, the way you can take something completely unreal and make it look like it really existed,” Eyre says. “When I first made a double image of myself, and was looking at the negative, I thought, ‘Who is that?’ I didn’t recognize myself any more, and I realized I had found how I wanted to work. I want only those images in which I don’t recognize myself.” (link)
They say that you can never truly see yourself; not in mirrors, or photos, or windows, or water. All you see is a flat reflection. You go through life with only an idea of how other people see you in the three dimensions, always one step removed from every true angle. Unless you’re (un)-lucky enough to have a twin - “the creepy kind,” as one of my friends with a non-creepy, fraternal twin brother would put it. From mythical manifestations as partners-in-crime who finish each others’ sentences to polar opposites who seek to annihilate each other, the concept of twins has always enthralled and horrified the human race.