Red Snow 1997 is a portrait-orientated screenprint on white wove paper that features two colour photographs. The right side of the work consists of a photograph of a bearded man with dark hair wearing blue jeans and a red hooded jumper. Pictured against an indistinct background, he is standing turned slightly to the right and looking downwards with a concerned expression. The man’s gaze appears to be directed towards the young woman in the photograph on the left side of the work, who is lying on snowy ground with a black scarf wrapped around her neck and with a lifeless expression that suggests she is dead. However, the two halves of the work clearly consist of separate photographs, which do not align at their top or bottom edges. The portrait-orientated image on the right extends slightly further down, while the image on the left is square with a large blank area above it. The work is signed by the artist on its reverse.
This work was made in London in 1997 by the British artist Sam Taylor-Johnson (then known as Sam Taylor-Wood). The photographs were originally created for a magazine article about the group exhibition Spellbound: Art and Film held at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1996, the title of which alludes to the British film-maker Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 thriller Spellbound. The highly stylised scene of distress that appears in the left image of Red Snow can be seen as a reference to the cinematic deaths shot by directors such as Hitchcock, while the work’s title, which evokes the colour of blood, further suggests associations with murder.
In bringing together two different images within a single composition, Red Snow seems to encourage a viewer to link the two scenes, while at the same time undermining the connection by highlighting the different sizes and origins of the photographs. In an interview with the curator and critic Bruce Ferguson in 1998, Taylor-Johnson described her photographs as ‘dysfunctional narratives’ and claimed: ‘They look like they’re beginning to tell a story; you try to make associations between the people and what they’re doing but you can’t necessarily find a narrative’ (quoted in Ferguson 1998, p.45). The artist’s comments are echoed in the analysis of Taylor-Johnson’s work offered by the curator Peter Doroshenko in 2006: ‘At first glance, her photographs and videos seem to be decisive moments in a larger narrative, captured and frozen by the camera, but the surrounding story remains elusive to the viewer’ (Peter Doroshenko, ‘Introduction’, in Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art 2006, p.8).
Born in London in 1967, Taylor-Johnson studied at North East London Polytechnic (1987–8) and Goldsmiths College in London (1989–90). Her early self-portraits, such as the photograph Fuck, Suck, Spank, Wank 1993, combine defiant expressions with suggestions of vulnerability. The four-screen video installation Killing Time 1994 (Tate T07937), in which sections from the libretto of Richard Strauss’s 1909 opera Elektra are mimed by four people who often seem bored, was one of five works by Taylor-Johnson included in the seminal group show Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1997. Between 1995 and 2000 Taylor-Johnson completed Five Revolutionary Seconds, a series of large-scale elongated photographs offering 360-degree perspectives on ambiguous scenarios played out in populated domestic interiors, which are accompanied by soundtracks featuring music and conversations. As well as making films for gallery exhibition, Taylor-Johnson has also directed the feature films Nowhere Boy (2009), a drama about the childhood of the British musician John Lennon, and Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), an adaptation of the erotic novel of the same name by the British author E.L. James.
Red Snow is part of Screen, a portfolio of eleven prints by London-based artists that was published in 1997 by Charles Booth-Clibborn under his imprint The Paragon Press. The works were all made between February and July 1997, and are presented together with a title page and colophon by the graphic designer Phil Baines in a black buckram-covered wooden case. The title of the portfolio refers to the technique of screenprinting and also alludes to the fact that many of the featured artists work with screen-based media. Each print exists in an edition of seventy-five, with the first forty-five produced in portfolio sets, of which the portfolio owned by Tate is number thirty-three.
Bruce Ferguson, ‘Sam Taylor-Wood’, BOMB Magazine, no.65, Autumn 1998, pp.42–9.
In Print: Contemporary British Art from the Paragon Press, exhibition catalogue, Cvijeta Zuzoric Art Pavilion, Belgrade, London 2001, p.22.
Sam Taylor-Wood: Still Lives, exhibition catalogue, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead 2006.
Supported by Christie’s.