Artist biography

English photographer. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art (1982–6) and at Goldsmiths College (1988–90), graduating with an MFA. In her early photographs she turned the camera on the institutions that support the visual arts. One such work, Portrait: Selection Committee for the Arts Council of England (1995; London, AC England Col.), was acquired by the very people represented in it. Her colour images are given a strong presence as a result of being mounted on light boxes; the use of solarisation around the figures' heads, like auras, further enhances their luminosity. In a project for Springfield Hospital, London, Yass took portraits of the clients and carers as well as shots of the empty interiors, all of which were displayed in the hospital in May 1995. The detachment with which she photographs people and their living and work spaces give the images an intimidating presence. She continued to concentrate on interiors in later projects, including a series taken in Spitalfields Meat Market, London; the empty meat hooks and stained walls are set off by the searing blue negative in the window spaces. Yass's photographs explicitly recall the historical conventions by which portraits and landscapes were used to immortalise and support the status of the patrons. Yet by highlighting the normally concealed activity and decision-making process that lies behind the production of both art and industry, Yass lays bare those conventions and exposes to public scrutiny the relationship between the artist and private and institutional patrons.

L. Moran and V. Swales, eds: Catherine Yass: Portraits (Portsmouth, 1996)
The Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (exh. cat., ed. C. Smith; London, Royal Coll. A., 1997)
Hospital Projects: Documentary Notes (exh. cat., essays T. V. Guha and J. Millar, London, Pub. A. Dev. Trust, 1997)

10 December 2000

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