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The Deviant Woman series comments upon the stereotypes of female deviance in contemporary mainstream representations. Inspired by the phenomenological reading of Myra Hindley’s infamous 1965 mug shot, which became the visual epitome of female atrociousness and derangement in modern times, Plouviez revisits the 19th century archive of psychiatric and criminological photography to examine how the social and gender specific preconceptions that formulated the concepts of mental disorder and criminality more than a hundred years ago still inform representations of women. It may be that Hindley’s portrait was no less mundane than any other high-street portrait of a fashionable young woman, but in the context of the Moors Murders story it became synonymous with the ‘face of human evil’. Her staring gaze, only too typical of likenesses of the kind, was to be deemed. ‘implacable, unnatural, and monstrous’ as the once good but fatally feckless Catholic girl, who dreamt of becoming a fitting wife and mother, was being transformed before the public eye into a ruthless murderess. Plouviez aims at challenging the order and supposed rational of such media-derived stereotyping by using the same representational tools but reverting their orthodox indicative function.

Deviant Woman brings together a series of portraits of women, in domestic environments, sitting in thought, and holding a letter. This may be seen as a contemporary interpretation of the classic romantic image of the woman reading a letter in the privacy of her home. Although depictions of women reading letters were largely associated with love dramas, the departed loved one or a secret lover, the letter also stood as a sign for the outside world (that is, a man’s world) whose access women were denied of.
The quietness of these reflective inward portraits is abruptly overturned when one reads the accompanying captions that point back to the taxonomic categories of the Victorian typologies of insanity and criminality. The emblematic labels “Religious Melancholy”, “Lactational Insanity”, and “Puerperal Mania” or “Infanticide”, “Poisoning”, and “Simple Larceny” undermine the first reading of the sitters as of the “woman-next- door” type. But, does the face of the young woman presented as suffering from suicidal melancholy indeed show “the bitterness and restrained grief, [the] swallowed sobs” or the “despondency and the horrible vision arisen in the mind” that Ernerst Lacan and John Conolly read in Diamond’s exemplars of suicidal monomania? Or can one possibly detect Lombroso’s atavistic stigmata in the portraits labelled “Simple Larceny” and “Poisoning”? By adopting and adapting historical and contemporary commonplaces, Plouviez emphasises the artifice of the ideological constructs that inform notions of femininity, normality, mental health, and goodness, showing, once again, that underneath a representation there is always another representation.

Text taken from Picturing Deviance by Alexandra Moschovi pub. 2007 Deviant Woman