Narratives of Unknowability: The Mysterious World of Photographer Anne Hardy

The Photo Blog
Feb. 12 2013 11:00 AM

Narratives of Unknowability

Anne Hardy
Rehearsal, 2010.

Anne Hardy/Maureen Paley, London.

Saying photographer Anne Hardy has an eye for detail doesn’t adequately describe the intricacy of her work. Each one of her photographs gives the viewer a sense of having just stumbled onto an event shortly after humanity has been zapped into oblivion.

Hardy, whose next exhibition opens in April at Maureen Paley in London, begins her process with the kernel of an idea for each image. From there, the concept enriches as she begins the process of amassing materials for each set, collected from builders’ supply stores, flea markets, previous sets—and the street.

Anne Hardy
Untitled VI, 2005.

Anne Hardy/Maureen Paley, London.

Via email, Hardy stated: “I am interested in discarded material and objects that have lost their original purpose. … Sometimes things become interesting with layers of use and damage and take on a new quality. …”


In her East London studio, Hardy spends months constructing and arranging each set with items that take on a surreal quality.

Anne Hardy
Lumber, 2003.

Anne Hardy/Maureen Paley, London.

Anne Hardy
Cipher, 2007.

Anne Hardy/Maureen Paley, London.

In Untitled VI, groups of beakers and bundles of test tubes combine with similarly shaped but thematically disparate items in a bunker-like room. In Cipher, a series of numbered ropes dangle from ceiling hooks above sets of weights and trophies in a plastered, decrepit garret. These odd groupings create a rich narrative, the details of which remain perplexingly outside of the viewer’s grasp. It is this element of ultimate unknowability that brings such a particular interest to these photographs.

About the work that goes into her photographs, Hardy explained:

“Originally I began building spaces to photograph them in order to find a parallel for the literary space of a book, one that may reference the real world yet at the same time is fiction. The literature I am interested in often proposes a world where the physical and psychological spaces of the protagonist are intertwined, and one affects and shapes our reading of the other profoundly. There are many gaps that you as a reader fill in, as although the real world may be portrayed convincingly … it does not add up in a usual way. How I work comes out of a desire to integrate a similar kind of space into what I make and how you might engage with it.”

Anne Hardy
Coordinate, 2009.

Anne Hardy/Maureen Paley, London.

Anne Hardy
Rift, 2011.

Anne Hardy/Maureen Paley, London.

Hardy sees her work more as “a collage of associations than a narrative.” In Coordinate, there are typical elements of a party: confetti, plastic cups scattered on the floor, but the odd charts on the wall with primitive hieroglyphics want to communicate something to us that we cannot ever understand. That the narrative remains a mystery is imperative to Hardy’s work.

Alyssa Coppelman is a freelance photo editor based in Austin, Texas, who spent most of the aughts as assistant art director at Harper’s.


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