In the series ‘Pulikali Tigers’ both photographer and subject perform with and for the camera. The photographer, with her large format camera and temporary outdoor studio appears like an amateur anthropologist and the tiger-performers, already dressed up, act out a pose from their dance for the camera. These men have spent the whole day being decorated by expert painters with thick oil paints to resemble a cast of wildcat characters. After each layer of paint they stand outside the painting shed, drying in between rain showers drinking secret toddies to keep their spirits up. They have been drinking beer for weeks to grow their bellies to massive sizes so that when they dance the cat faces on them wobble as if alive.
As soon as the painting is finished and they are almost ready for the dance, Fox photographs them, (working together with a technical team who manage lights and large format camera). She is interested in the point at which the transformation between personality and performer is almost complete; the moment when they are just about to be removed from the everyday and placed instead into a performative carnival space, where anything can happen. The Pulikali dance is fairly unique in India as it is an event that is not tied to religion or to caste – all men take part (it is tied to gender; no women take part!).
Before the photograph the performers are asked to remove their tiger masks (some do not) and invited to take a pose from the Pulikali dance (which they will later enact). The human head appearing out of the tiger body marks the point of distinction between fact and fiction; real life and fantasy; the everyday and the escape. This point is what Fox is seeking in the series – the moment between when codes and conventions cannot be trusted anymore and no-one is sure who we are or why we are there.
Born in 1961 and completing her degree in Audio Visual studies at The Surrey Institute, Farnham in 1986, Anna Fox has been working in photography and video for over twenty years. Influenced by the British documentary tradition and US ‘New Colourists’ her first work Workstations (published by and exhibited first at Camerawork, London 1988) observed, with a critical eye, London office culture in the mid Thatcher years. Later work documenting weekend wargames, Friendly Fire, was exhibited in the exhibition Warworks at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Netherlands Foto Institute and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography.
Her solo shows have been seen at The Photographer’s Gallery, London, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago and her work has been included in numerous international group shows – Through the Looking Glass, Centre of the Creative Universe: Liverpool and the Avant-garde and How We Are: Photographing Britain amongst others. She has had several monographs of her work published, a new book of her work, Anna Fox Photographs 1983 -2007, edited by Val Williams was published by Photoworks in 2007 and a new exhibition of her work Cockroach Diary and Other Stories, curated by Anne McNeill is currently toured by Impressions Gallery.
Anna Fox is currently Professor of Photography at University for the Creative Arts at Farnham.