Using Faces To Make Sense Of The Past | 2/3

I’m a writer, but I have a visual imagination. In this mini series, I’m going to explain how I’ve used faces as a way to “picture” and make sense of large numbers of people, in things I’m writing.

This is an example from fiction, in which I wrestle with how to distinguish between people in a novel – a mix of people at the court of Queen Anne.

Fictional Faces

This is Queen Anne. Well, it’s actually Jude Claybourne.

Black and white collage. Early 1700s painting of a seated queen, one hand raised to chest, English crown beside her on a table. Face covered by square high-contrast photo of woman looking up and right
What If The Queen Should Die? (Unbound)

Jude is one of several improvisers who helped me to create my novel about Queen Anne. Not just with the characterisation and the storyline but with the illustrations too.

I asked Jude, and a few other impro friends, if they might be willing to lend their faces, as modern “masks” for the real historical figures in the book.

I couldn’t have asked for a more generous response.

I asked Will Steele to take a picture on his phone that I could use for one of the great writers in my book, Jonathan Swift. My request was very specific, and totally unreasonable (see below).

Hermione Jones took several self-portraits for me to use as Mary, one of the few entirely fictional characters.

Mary is a young lady in waiting to Queen Anne. She sees and hears more than the plotters around her suspect. I asked Hermione to hint at that knowledge with a sparkle in her eye. Almost at once, Will and Hermione sent these.

This was what I asked Will: “Could you take a pic of yourself with the camera looking down at you slightly? Expression is bursting with pride inside but trying to hide it and slightly afraid that you might lose everything any minute.”

I gave similarly impossible requests to the others pictured below.

I then set about distorting the modern portraits, posterising them, making them black and white, framing them, then placing them over a variety of contemporary portraits. Like this: