John Lahr, senior drama critic, The New Yorker, writes about Celia Read’s exhibition at the London Centre for Psychotherapy

'The Haunted Heart'

Celia Read’s original and unsettling photographs are theatre pieces,  psycho-dramas of childhood staged in a doll’s house where miniature figures with bodies made of pipe cleaners and cloth --  mostly in the shape of mother and daughter-- are discovered in mysterious and menacing scenes set against major works of modern art. The elegant world of adult play contrasts with and comments on the fierce world of child’s play going on around it.

Full of mystery and menace, Read’s haunting groupings contain the contradictory imminences of childhood: its anxiety of isolation, its incidental violence, its consolation of beauty. The diminutive figures, small and stiff, when arranged in maternal postures, instantaneously create a sense of lack—something frozen, an unbridgeable isolation.  When set against the unmooring incidents of the adult world, the fabricated figures with their punch-pressed innocence throw an ironic radiance over the scenes, invoking in Read’s imagination the shadows they are meant to dispel.

Read’s photos trap the fantastical dimension of childhood terror. The figures are small; the psychic events are huge. The effect of this juxtaposition is to create a child’s eye-view of the world, a sort of Beanstalk Country full of enormous and unfathomable events.  Here, for instance, the shock of adult sex glimpsed in front of the fierce phallic shapes of a Franz Klein. In another photo, a father sits on the stairway slumped in front of a brooding Rothko while the daughter watches at a distance powerless to assuage his aura of doom. In these well-composed photographs, by pitting the child’s natural omnipotence against loss, Read creates the profound drama of childhood insecurity.  In ‘Falling, falling, fallen’ for instance, the daughter is not strong enough to save her mother (or herself) from falling out a window. In Read’s fragile universe, the fear of annihilation lurks  everywhere.  In ‘When the cat was let out of the bag’ a black panther climbs down the stair-- the mother sprawls headlong before it--toward the crib where the terrified child lies.  A long devouring shadow in ‘Stay in the light’ falls over the crepuscular gloom of the playroom in which a little girl watches her predatory cat gaze into a gold-fish bowl. 

But wonder, not just mastering terror, is the theatre of child’s play. A figure reclines on a couch beside Read’s painting of Freud’s couch, bathed in its luminous radiance. And, in perhaps, her most monumental piece—photographed from above--- a mother and child lie amidst the abstract shapes they paint together. Both lost, yet connected, among the vivid abstractions they create:  an image of the magic of art’s transcendence

John Lahr

Digital Lambda prints, all 30ins. high (except ‘Falling, Falling, Fallen’ which is 40 ins. high). There are also lightboxes of No.10, 11 & 12 (Duratram – Diasec and lightbox)(1) and (2) Charles Baudelaire, ‘Morale du joujou’, in Baudelaire: Oeuvres Completes, ed. Marcel A. Ruff (Paris, 1968), pp358-60.

Click here to view Celia Read's decription of 'What makes are so good to live with'

Mother and child and falling leaf