"God is like a distant father, he doesn't pay alimony and you don't know where he is; half of his children have accepted that he's gone, the other half still wait in hope" - Jackie Parker

Model: Jackie Parker

I first met Jackie about a year before this portrait series. At the time I knew very little about her but I found her intriguing. My interest in photographing her was aroused early on, and my initial thought was to do a series of portraits which dealt with gender because, by Jackie's own admission, people sometimes confuse her for a boy. By the time we began work on this photo series many months had passed and by that time we had grown to be close friends and contrary to my first impressions I was now discovering her to be a sensitive, feminine, profoundly honest, and sometimes fragile person.

Jackie was homeless for a short while when I first met her and the significance of mentioning this relates to the content of these images. For a few difficult months circumstances forced her into an abandoned building as a temporary accommodation - a building once used to house psychiatric patients. In one way I thought of her as a 'cool chick' for being tough enough to sleep in a spooky six level abandoned building alone with the ghosts of its past, the ultimate Bohemian, musician, artist, living on the fringes. But in another way I worried about her endlessly and kept asking myself why this was happening to her. Her room was a small cell with a window; messy; a guitar in one corner; a collection of books strewn all over the floor and some blankets. I'd visit her often, then leaving her there was always difficult to do. Mostly I'd reason with my own mind telling myself this was all part of Jackie's greater life story, her bigger picture. It led me to question my own sense of 'normality'. Perhaps my conservative upbringing had blinded me to the awareness that one can get through life quite happily with a guitar, a library membership, coffee, beer and one good meal a day.

The images presented here were shot on two occasions - during Jackie's brief period of homelessness when she allowed me to photograph her in the building; and months later we did studio portraits by which time Jackie had moved into her own apartment. The objects (a book & a guitar) were included at my request because they've come to represent the symbols that I associate with Jackie. She is both a self trained guitarist and an authority on anything relating to art or music. A relentless book reader who I've often thought of as a sort of closet academic and intelligent way beyond most people. I've come to see the symbols of the books and the guitar as her tools of survival and the means by which she kept herself together through these few months and in life.

In some ways these images explore gender as was my initial intent. Together they form a tapestry portraying a glimpse of a much deeper complexity and a portrait of a survivor - who happens to also be a very 'cool chick'.

Graeme Wienand


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