Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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Ann Shelton
Serial Stalker

I took a side trip from visiting my friend Giovanni Intra in Los Angeles. I sucked up the cost: return flights to Florida, a hire car, the money for a painfully generic American chain hotel. I touched down in Orlando ready to drive the section of the I95 frequented by a “working girl” serial killer and to find the place where she took the body of her first “victim” – or the man who raped her anally with lighter fluid as lubricant, depending on how you look at it. Still alive then and incarcerated on death row, Wournos was the lead story in local paper the morning I arrived, a headline about the attempted cessation or stays of execution in her state, part of a broader attempted repeal of the death penalty, if I remember rightly. She felt close somehow. Her case, tried some years prior, was mired by all kinds of dodgy police and juridical process, extreme religious fanaticism, a duplicitous girlfriend, and now is forever muddied up by a Hollywood blockbuster staring Charlize Theron.

I began my super weird solo American road trip with the purpose of visiting all Wournos’ old haunts, lugging my homemade 8x10 camera constructed from light- weight aluminium and garden plastic (with its epic Schneider lens which now languishes on a shelf in my studio) and black hood, trying to think of what to say to onlookers and enquirers about what the fuck* I was doing. A weird sense of imposterism cloaks you when you circumnavigate a state tracing the steps of one of its most persecuted and publicly maligned “fatal women”. 1 There are those who understand this line of enquiry and those who don’t, different answers to the question then…

Having recently rented copies of the live court TV tapes of Wournos’s trial from a ‘hard to find’ video store in West Hollywood I had watched every bit of one court case. The research I had done, including reading Lynda Hart’s book that I invoke above, watching two documentaries by Nick Blomfield, plus reading and viewing any other relevant material, swirled around my picture making like hundreds of dark and fucked up popup windows emerging from the quotidian scenes I photographed; the impossibly bright days and my consequently light leak ridden negatives of the truck stops where Wournos worked as a prostitute, the motel where her and her girlfriend lived, and The Last Resort, her local watering hole in Port Orange where I purchased a souvenir mouse pad. Finally, I tracked the life of a woman I will never meet to a puddle at the entrance of the private road. This is where I believe Wournos drove on her quest to dispose of the body of Richard Mallory who was later found to be a convicted rapist. Neither this nor the brutal nature of Mallory’s attack effected the outcome of Wournos’s trial – she was found guilty of murder in the first degree.

Adjacent to where I parked my car was an imposing and impressive hedge. This place felt desolate, creepy, like the end of the road. As I erected my tripod as fast as I fucking could, I felt like a criminal myself, it seemed to take forever, and slowly I became aware that I myself was being stalked. As I took my light reading, extended my bellows, framed up my image (it would eventually be doubled at scale, forming an inverted and duplicitous pair) loaded my 8x10 sheet film holder into the camera, and cocked the shutter, I sensed that I was being watched intently from behind that hedge by a hunched over woman who believed herself hidden to me. Needless to say, I got out of there as fast as I could. I do find shooting in America is always caught up with the fact that people carry guns!

1 Lynda Hart, Fatal Women: Lesbian Sexuality and the Mark of Aggression, Taylor & Francis,1994

Ann Shelton is a Wellington-based artist who received her MFA from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.  She has exhibited extensively and internationally and her work is photographically based but extends to performance, doubling, spoken, textual and printed matter. Shelton is Honorary Research Fellow in Photography at Whiti o Rehua, School of Art, Massey University, Te Kunenga ki Pürehuroa.