Pretend You’re Actually AliveLeigh Ledare(PPP Editions, 2008 )
Leigh Ledare’s Pretend You’re Actually Alive is an uncompromisingly intimate portrait of his mother, of complex and unconventional family relationships, sexuality, and aging—a raw and starkly revealing collaboration between mother and son. Ledare has created a provocative body of work that veers from maternal tenderness to pornographic performance, and a family album that sits somewhere between theatre and document.
In describing his mother’s sexuality, Ledare writes, “Shielding herself from her own sense of aging; attempting to trade on her beauty before her looks waned; procuring an intimacy with me, often through a substitute figure; laying claim to posterity; and in a very poignant way as an attempt to undermine her father’s expectations on her, both as his daughter and as the mother of me and my brother. She had never wanted to be normal.”
Tina Peterson, a former ballerina prodigy turned professional stripper, uses her overtly sexualized identity as an uncompromising display performed daily in front of her son’s curious lens. As she poses draped in lace, revealing her genitalia to the camera, we are witness to a woman determined to retain the attributes of youth and beauty, whilst renewing and reinventing her identity behind a sexualized façade.
Pretend You’re Actually Alive is a brutal revelation. Unlike similar photographic journals produced by artists such as Richard Billingham or Nan Goldin, the power of this work is in the collaboration. Petersen is more than Ledare’s muse; she is her son’s co-conspirator. Beyond the Oedipal connotations, sexual taboos and narcissism, it would be difficult to imagine a more complex portrait of sexuality.