WHY I LIKE THIS by Dan Burn-Forti
When I first saw this strange little gem, it struck me that I’ve never really liked red capes. As a young child, I found the tale of Little Red Riding Hood very scary and its plot inconsistencies rather annoying. How could she not see through his disguise? How could he eat them both whole? Wouldn’t it have been bloody carnage when the huntsman saved them? Also, aged 8 or 9, I had an amazing holiday in Venice where Nicolas Roeg was making the film “Don’t Look Now”. My Mum’s best friend was acting in the film and, so that they could go out one night without my sister and I, they arranged for the actor who played the knife-wielding, red cape wearing murderess to babysit us. To pass the time she took us on a walk around the streets of Venice whilst telling us the story of the film. I’m not sure this was quite what my Mum envisaged, but it was brilliant! However, years later when I saw the film, the vividness of this memory coupled with the shock of the ending (and realising what the role of our babysitter was) had quite the effect on me. Seeing this picture reminded me of that sensation.
The sitter, Joan, does not look very comfortable with the photographic portrait experience. Her expression is quite enigmatic but seems slightly uncomfortable, possibly a bit annoyed, but also rather sad. The subdued lighting and mundane domestic garden setting adds to this sense of melancholy. Her direct gaze and the use of colour make it feel that it was taken much more recently than it obviously was. Although the clothing is obviously from another age, as the red cape feels more like fancy dress than an item of day to day clothing, this doesn’t particularly age it for me. But as it is more than 100 years old, I can’t help wondering, whatever happened to Joan in the red cape.
The knowledge of the turbulent times she was about to live through gives the picture an added sense of boding, and I can’t help but fear that life might have been difficult for Joan. But, as my Grandmother celebrates her 106 birthday this year, I hope that Joan’s expression in this picture was not indicative of her but that in fact she went on to have a full and marvellous life.
Dan Burn-Forti specialises in photographing people, animals and places. He is a regular contributor to publications such as British and US Esquire, The Sunday Telegraph, Wired and The Independent on Sunday Review. In addition to this he works extensively in the field of advertising, having shot many campaigns for clients such as Diet Coke, O2, Andrex, Tango, Carling and Hugo Boss. http://www.danburnforti.com.
Image: Joan in Red Riding Hood Cape with a Basket by John Cimon Warburg, 1907 © National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL Creative Commons BY-NC-SA