The formation of identity is a theme that many artists explore in their work, drawing from personal experience, memory, and even fantasies in order to ascertain the fundamental nature of who they are or perhaps who they might wish to be. Photographer Laurie Long sites reading Nancy Drew mystery books as one of her early influences in life. Fictional stories of girl detectives such as Nancy Drew and Harriet the spy served as role models for millions of young female readers. Such characters challenged typical role models for young women by empowering them with a sense of independence, an inquisitive nature, and a tendency to go against the societal norm for how a young woman was expected to behave. In a previous photographic project entitled Becoming Nancy Drew, Long used the adventures of this heroine as a blueprint for a series of self-portraits in which she duplicated situations pulled directly from the book illustrations. Long presented her own re-creation of the situation paired with a pinhole photograph taken from her perspective within the re-created scene, allowing the viewer to simultaneously act as observer and participant.
Long followed this series with her Dating Surveillance Project. As the title suggests, Long applied her detective instincts to her own personal life by videotaping her dates with a concealed camera located in her coat. The process of dating serves as an investigation where two parties use this constructed social situation to gather more information about the other party-scrutinizing clothing, appearance, conversation, eating habits, etc. For Long to videotape this activity is merely an extension of her own investigative process. While some of her dates were willing accomplices in this activity, others remained unaware until the end of the date when the artist was forced to reveal her actions in order to secure a signature on a model release. Long would take these often blurry, un-composed stills from the video and then reprint them for display in the gallery. In both of these series Long places her viewers into the role of a woman examining her current situation, making observations, drawing conclusions, and taking action.
If we were to consider Long's Becoming Nancy Drew series as an analogy for the formation of identity from childhood through adolescence, and her Dating Surveillance Project carrying the analogy through to adulthood, then we would have to consider her most recent project to be an expansive exploration into the formation of female identity through history, religion, and myth. In this latest series, The Secret History of Goddess Sites, Long began an extensive investigation into the sacred sites where female deities were worshipped. Long spent nearly six months traveling in Europe to find and document these locations. Many of the sites Long researched predated Christianity by hundreds of years, but throughout the areas of Europe where Long traveled, Christian churches and sanctuaries were prevalent, and the sites of the goddesses she was seeking were not to be found. Ultimately Long would only discover unmarked ruins, open fields, and even Christian churches that were built on the very foundations of these sites, as in the case of Chartes Cathedral. As an investigator the conclusion Long arrived at was that these places were intentionally cast off by the controlling patriarchal society. In response to this assessment Long began to fashion her photographs into a series of postcard-like images. When visiting any tourist attraction, numerous postcards are available for sale as mementos of one's travels and also to reaffirm the importance of these locations. Using the appearance of the archetypal photographic postcard Long created her own postcards of these locations as evidence of their existence, and in doing so granted them a certain cultural significance that history denied them.
Photography has long been a tool of investigation, both literal and metaphorical. The photograph has the ability to record, document, 'catch in the act,' to memorialize, to monument, or even to fabricate something which was never recorded. As the consummate detective, Long uses photography as the means to examine the roles that women are expected to play and even their very place in the retelling of history.
Gary Hesse (c)2002