Read about Bulletproof

by Julie Esteve

6 years later…

A young, bare-chested sailor, his hands in the pockets of his white pants. His skin is smooth, pale, perfect. The nose is straight, the lips flush. Underneath the cap, his hair is short, black, strong. He is looking to the East; life lies before him. His beauty is unfathomable, sublime because it will last but an instant – a few months, maybe a few hours.

Vee Speers eternalizes this moment of fragile adolescent beauty. She photographs the time before first loss, the time of childhood. She captures this in the bodies and faces. And she creates a world layered upon a world, of characters upon children who are no longer children. She dresses, styles, costumes, sometimes masks them. And the big girls and proud boys who pass through her hands are projected elsewhere. Into their battles, their modesty, their trouble. Each and everyone has a frightening power. There is no weakness in their being nor vulnerability in their posture, their expression, their gaze.

Speers provides them with weapons for their war – a pistol, an axe, a butcher’s knife, buffalo horns fastened onto hands… just about anything… battle helmets, a toreador’s costume of lights – for when it is time for the kill. And she creates more than an image or portrait that will serve as a memory of their passage here on earth. She prepares them, equips them, augments them, because they must be able to fight and defend themselves against everything: the giants and the lunatics, a bellicose society, the misery and hatred of humankind. Of course, they will also have to struggle, these boys and girls, with their personal demons, their emotions that can flare up or shatter into pieces.

There is the epic in adolescence, as well as the excessive and the romantic. Absolutely. It seems that these young people presented by Vee Speers come from far away, another place, having arrived from a mythological future, a dysfunctional past… or maybe it is the reverse – it’s not important – because in the words of Lewis Carroll’s White Queen, “it’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” So, yes, we can say that they have come from madness, from a circus and a poem. Mad Max, Alice and Peter Pan, or Delicatessen, these identities are as alive within them as they are in the imagination of the Australian photographer. Speers adds to this, imbuing her portraits with the tones of those black-and-white films that have been colourized, given colours without time, as if touched by immortality. She even disguises her colours.

There is that girl who is wearing the white dress with the ruffles on the bottom. Her gaze is upon us, formidable. Around her shoulders is a fawn. Bambi is dead. She killed him with a wooden boomerang from another century. But she keeps him with her as a trophy, the animal of her childhood. Freckles by the hundreds on her nose and under her eyes, her silvery hair tied back in a chignon, it gives her an air of mystery, authority, unsettling otherness. She is stronger than everything. She overwhelms. And this girl with the innocent dress and the dark regard leads us to the Grimm Brothers, because fairy tales are always cruel.

There is the butcher, with her pig’s mask, a wink and a stuck-out tongue. She has her apron and a cleaver attached to her belt. It is a clown, a farce, a forever frozen smile, chilling. It is revenge. Masks are masquerades, screens onto which we can project fear, death, or anarchy. And the butcher regales in her appearance, her effect.

More delicate is the girl with the ash-coloured Mohawk. More elusive in her faded pink dress. We don’t know if it is a gale she blows through her antique phonograph horn, seeding storms or heralding the power to lull and seduce the darkest souls.

And then there is the toreador in his yellow garb, his golden garb. Hair crashes upon his forehead. His eyes are hard, focussed. The face is severe, the body tense, rigid with his nobility, his honour. The arms and hands are like knives and swords. They shear, they cut. And the little matador dances so as not to be consumed by fear. He dances to defy death, to deliver it.

Each and every one, in their manner and in their costume, is invincible. Each and every one holds the reins, dictates the rules. All is done. Certainly, Vee Speers has already photographed this band of heroes and heroines, has already had them play roles, against the same grey wall, six years earlier, when the adolescents were nothing more than children. Children who had just left a birthday party, dressed in their disguises of the little raven, the dancer in the tutu, the wounded boxer, the doll killer. These kids were already strong, already shifty, savage, already beautiful, terrible. Since then, things have changed, their bodies have taken shape, become bigger, longer. There faces too, they have transformed, become refined. She has led them toward imaginary realms, playgrounds, curiosities, places where these characters both small and large will always remain, no matter what happens, armed and victorious.

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