Arles International Photography Festival, Les Rencontres d’Arles, 3 July – 19 September 2010
Live interview for Talk Box on Beijing Radio, 774am. 14th July, 11am-12noon.
Presenters June Lee and Dominic Swire interview Helen Couchman about her work and her recent book Mrs. West’s Hats. The interview was broadcast with an accompanying live video link.
At the studio in a hat borrowed for the show. Photo taken by the host, June. Listen to a previous interview about living in Beijing and her first book WORKERS 工人 here.
Vivian Wang from the Bookworm recommends the following bestsellers to Beijing Today readers.
Yu Li: Confessions of an Elevator Operator. By Jimmy Qi
Mrs. West’s Hats. By Helen Couchman, introduction by Anthony Gorman
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation. By Michael Keller, illustrated by Nicolle Rager Fuller
Mrs West’s Hats
by Helen Couchman with an introduction by Anthony Gorman
Mrs. West’s Hats is the first publication in book form of a series of sixty photographic self-portraits produced by the artist Helen Couchman in 1997. The title of the piece refers to Couchman’s maternal grandmother, Mrs West (1909-1993). In the photographs Couchman, made up to look like a young woman of the austere 1940’s or ’50s, is seen wearing a succession of her grandmother’s hats, as though acting out the “role” of her own grandmother as she would have looked during that period.
The Hat Magazine No. 43. November 2009, page 42
Hats off to new book
A young British artist this week unveiled a striking and stylish hardback book that features 60 self-portraits in which she wears a succession of her late grandmother’s vintage hats. Helen Couchman, who grew up in rural Wales andHampshire, re discovered the collection, from the 1940s and 50s, in a chest of drawers after the death of her much-loved grandmother, with whom she spent part of her childhood. To explore inheritance, heritage and memory, Couchman resolved to photograph herself wearing every hat she found, and the result is Mrs West’s Hats.
Despite the austerity of the post-war era, the hats are lively and full of character – demonstrating perhaps that imaginative milliners could give women a means to express themselves despite fabric rationing. Dr Anthony Gorman writes in his foreword: “As the example of Mrs West’s headgear shows, hats are as diverse and expressive as faces.”
Miss Couchman’s favourite is a close-fitting bright blue creation decorated with little imitation flowers. “It’s extraordinary, and you can see in the photo that my expression is a bit puzzled,” she says. “Another interesting one is in straw, designed in keeping with Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ collection of 1947.”
Couchman exhibited the photographs in London and Armenia before publishing them in book form. The work follows another photographic project, Workers, a series of portraits of Chinese migrant workers who were building the infrastructure for last year’s Olympic Games.
Dr Carol Tulloch in conversation with Helen Couchman
Book launch and book signing
6.30pm, 3rd November 2009
Phoenix Artist Club, 1 Phoenix Street, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DT
Many thanks to Carol, Mauice and to everyone at the London launch for your interesting questions and good wishes.
To view this and the images selected see: www.dakaidakai.com
Dakai magazine is a new online journal of the independent arts devoted to creating a necessary, mutually nurturing bridge between the artistic communities of China and the rest of the world.
Beijing based artist Helen Couchman’s new book uses an eclectic collection of hats left to her by her departed grandmother to weave a striking and stylish narrative of an adventurous young woman and her exploration of identity and self-presentation.
A celebration of both her grandmother’s life and mid-twentieth millenary design, Couchman’s photographs ape the fashion photography of the time and resurrect an array of bold and colorful characters that although long out of “fashion” seem as vibrant and exciting as anything we’ve seen recently. The hats, all of which are authentic vintage, range in style from the colorful and classically feminine to the avant-garde, gently recalling a time before the sleekness of the modern era when a hat could serve as the proverbial “cherry on top” of a dignified yet colorful outfit.
In conversation with Stacey Duff and Dr Anthony Gorman
Thanks to Cissy B for the photos