Charley Murrell and Hannah Starkey

Notes on Charley Murrell “Constructed Childhoods” and Hannah Starkey “Untitled”

Both artists here construct images to illustrate their responses to questions they ask themselves. They both use photography to illustrate an otherwise intangible idea. In that sense they both have a lot in common with Hasan and Husain Essop, but where they differ is the way they embrace digital manipulation to create the required image.

For “Constructed Childhoods”, Charley Murrell has created images where a child or young person is juxtaposed with a corresponding digitally altered version of themselves. The images are carefully constructed to place the altered image in a naturalised context – a magazine cover, a poster on a bus, a reflection in a mirror. The digital manipulation is such that the altered image has a slightly (or sometimes not so slight) exaggerated quality, to illustrate the idea of unrealistic body image expectations.  Murrell describes her intentions as interpreting the impact of advertising images on how children view themselves. In most of the images in this set the gaze of the altered image is towards the camera, and that of the child in a different direction. This suggests to me that Murrell regards the viewer as complicit in these unreal – and creepy – expectations.  

Hannah Starkey’s work is based on elaborate staging and careful lighting rather than explicit digital manipulation (although she is not averse to the idea, as she says in the Tate video).  Her images are carefully staged so that they resemble film stills, images deliberately intended to be a snapshot of a larger scene. Susan Bright quotes Starkey as saying “by carefully constructing my photographs and controlling all elements within the image, I can express to others how I view the world around me”(Bright,2011:96). Her photographs generally do not depict the subject directly; sometimes partially hidden, or in low-key lighting, and always looking away. The intention is that the subject is depicted as unaware of the camera, as if the photograph has been taken surreptitiously. These are deliberate constructions by Starkey, carefully staged scenes intended to depict her concerns. Charloote Cotton says of her work that they “elaborate on observations she has made, investing familiar scenes with imaginative potential”(Cotton,2014:60).  When directly visible the subject shows an expression of concern, as if caught in a moment of decision, or sometimes crisis. Starkety, in the Tate video, says it was not her intention to always photograph women but as her practice developed it became clear to her that women were her main concern. Her images in this set

Starkey’s work is subtler than Murrell’s but both succeed in depicting an idea as opposed to an actual physical presence.  The image contents may be fictitious but the image itself is real, as are the photographers’ intentions. The ‘truth’ behind these supports to a certain extent Bazin’s view on photographic objectivity. He says “the personality of the photographer enters into the proceedings only in his selection of the object to be photographed”(Bazin,1967:241), and later “the objective nature of photography confers on it a credibility absent from all other picture-making”(Bazin,1967:241). The first statement directly supports both artists here, and the second is certainly not opposed by them either. What the work of both artists here seem to say is not that photography is or is not objective, but that objectivity is an irrelevant artistic distinction anyway.  

I like both the works under review here; in terms of an approach I might use, my own personality might guard against Murrell’s exaggeration and more towards Starkey’s understatement. That is not to decry either though; both succeed admirably on their own terms.


Battersby, M. (2011) ‘Hannah Starkey: Twenty-Nine Pictures’ In: The Independent 18/01/2011 At: (Accessed 12/08/2020).

Constructed Childhoods (s.d.) At: (Accessed 12/08/2020).

Saatchi Gallery (s.d.) Saatchi Gallery – Hannah Starkey. At: (Accessed 12/08/2020).

Tate (s.d.) TateShots – Hannah Starkey. At: (Accessed 12/08/2020).

Bright, S. (2011) Art Photography Now. (2nd ed. edition) (s.l.): Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (World of Art). (3 edition) (s.l.): Thames and Hudson Ltd.

André Bazin The Ontology of the Photographic Image (1967) in Trachtenberg, A. (ed.) (1980) Classic Essays on Photography. (s.l.): Leete’s Island Books,U.S.

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