The Sitting Room (Francis Place) III is a large, square photograph. It depicts a teenage girl sitting cross-legged in an armchair in a sitting room. The image is scaled up to almost life size. The girl is barefoot and wears white trousers and a white v-necked top. Her straight, dark hair hangs over her shoulders and she looks at a point on the floor in the middle distance outside the picture frame. Shoulders hunched, and hands clasped in an unnatural position before her, she could be thinking of something difficult or unpleasant, certainly far away. The armchair is covered in dark green patterned chintz and has heavy-clawed wooden legs. It stands in front of a large window alcove which is covered by thick red velvet curtains, filling most of the background. They are slightly ajar, revealing a sliver of dark window. In front of the curtain, behind and to the left of the armchair, an antique wooden table bears a silver vase of artificial flowers, a lacquered wooden box, a small china dish and a picture of a little girl in a gilt frame. Next to it, partially cropped by the left side of the photograph, stands a low armless chair upholstered in red velvet. Its heavy wooden legs suggest that it, like the armchair, dates from the nineteenth century. A small cushion embroidered with a bouquet of flowers sits on it. A section of a television on a wheeled stand is visible on the right edge of the image. Behind it, a narrow strip of white wall extends upwards. Thick-piled beige carpet covers the floor. In the foreground, the edge of an ornate Persian rug is visible. It undulates at one end as though it has been rumpled and not subsequently straightened. Marks from the furniture being moved are visible on the carpet. The environment is one of comfortable affluence.
The Sitting Room (Francis Place) III and a related photograph, The Dining Room (Francis Place) I 1997 (Tate P78252), are the result of an ongoing project Jones began in 1996 with the assistance of three teenage girls, Camilla, Rohan and Stephanie. She has photographed them in two of their parental homes, Francis Place and Mulberry Lodge, large, comfortable houses located in a village in middle England. The girls are close friends and well known to the artist. They were fourteen at the time The Dining Room (Francis Place) I was made. Jones began photographing them in the dining rooms and sitting rooms of the two houses. She subsequently expanded her series into the landing, the hallway, the spare room, a bedroom and the garden. The images are carefully set up, the furniture often rearranged and studio lights used, enhancing the staged atmosphere. Jones’s work is informed by the writings of psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Jacques Lacan (1901-81) and philosopher Roland Barthes (1915-80). In an earlier series of photographs, Actor I-IV 1995, Jones invited a group of professional actors to select and emulate one of six gazes depicted in a painting by Italian renaissance artist Piero della Francesca (1420?-92), known as the Montefeltro Altarpiece (1465). In this project she explored the relationships between a staged pose or gesture, a gaze and a person’s individual character. With the Francis Place/Mulberry Lodge series, she extends this theme with a mixture of opposites. Each image is openly contrived, the result of careful composition and artificial, directed poses. At the same time, the girls are personal friends, both of the artist and amongst themselves. These relationships must, necessarily, affect the nature of the photograph. The rooms in which they are photographed are located in a home known intimately to them. As the series progresses and photographs are taken over formative years in the girls’ lives, their mid adolescence, their appearances change. The creation of identity through appearance is a central preoccupation for teenagers and the series partially documents these changes. Other readings, such as narrative subtexts, are hinted at by the images, but remain impenetrable. The girls belong to wealthy upper-middle class families, their homes ornamented with symbols of wealth and status. In Jones’s photographs they appear awkward, uncomfortable, bored or even mentally absent, departed in adolescent reverie, despite their comfortable background. Their relationship to the environment which supports and nurtures them is ambiguous. The titles of these works all refer to the place, rather than the human subjects of the image, suggesting a theatrical tableau rather than a portrait. The images lie in between a reality which is described and one which is performed, confronting the viewer with questions about photographic representation.
The Sitting Room (Francis Place) III was produced in an edition of three plus one artist’s proof.
Chris Townsend, ‘Openings, Sarah Jones’, Artforum, vol. 36, no.7, March 1998, pp.90-1
Sarah Jones, exhibition catalogue, Museum Folkwang, Essen and Huis Marseille Foundation of Photography, Amsterdam 2000, reproduced (colour) p.67
Sarah Jones, exhibition brochure, Jerwood Gallery, London 1999