Tracey Moffatt translates her love of storytelling by mixing humour and tragedy in Scarred for Life II (1999). This series of ten images is printed on thin off-white paper akin to scaled up pages from ‘Life’ magazine prominent in America in the 1960s. In contrast to most photo-essays in ‘Life’ magazine, Moffatt purposefully takes the small yet traumatic humiliations of daily life – the sniping and jibing at difference, the feelings of inadequacy, which may indeed scar us for life.
Moffatt used photolithography (which was the most common form of printing used in newspapers and magazines in the 19th and 20th centuries) to print the works in faded colours, adding to their ephemeral effect. Each suburban drama of familial slighting, coupling ordinariness with a dramatic tension in Scarred for Life II is at once horrifying as much as it is amusing because of its very mundanity. The viewer recognises similar events from their own past, or strange events that they have witnessed and not quite understood. Here again, Moffatt attempts to universalise the difficult search for identity – suggesting connections between the struggles of all marginalised groups.
Scissor cut, 1980 (1999) is the only work in Scarred for Life II that is shot from above – the point of view of the parent. Here, the absolute nature of the punishment seems to far outweigh whatever the crime might have been. Scarred for Life is unusual in Moffatt’s oeuvre because of the captions. While the words are compelling, they don’t explain the images, indeed they tend to add to their enigmatic nature as though more information is a further dead end. This works directly against the received notion of photographic captioning as necessarily directing understanding. In Scarred for Life the intricate webs of thought, action, word and image capturing the chasm of ongoing trauma are presented. Moffatt has said that this series may be a continuing project as ‘everyone has a tragic tale to tell.’
View full series of Scarred For Life II, 1999