Todd’s persistent interest in challenging or discomforting her viewer can be seen in these early works. In later images such as Frenzy (2006) or Hazel the Forbidden (2007) the threat is implicit, encoded in the awkwardness of the body language of the sitter and the strange scenario in which they are placed. Here, the threat is explicit: a girl emerges from a darkened stairwell, menacing the camera with a rake; elsewhere, Todd herself poses with a fetishist’s whip draped over her shoulder; in a third image, Todd pulls another woman’s hair, brandishing her fake nails like talons. As Todd’s practice matured, she discarded such overt provocations, recognising that, in many cases, the things that are the most threatening are those that appear the most normal. The uncanny is, in many cases, a more powerful source of discomfort, or even disgust, than the merely shocking. However, here Todd revels in the burlesque and the perverse, her campy threats a challenge to the sensibilities of an imagined audience who, probably, aren’t all that offended.
Anthony Byrt notes the ritual dimension of Todd’s interest in costume, citing her Cousin Diptych (1989), which later reappeared as part of Thrombosis.2 In this pair of images, Todd and her cousin appear as teenagers, dressing for a night on the town which, in fact, never happened. The two images from the present collection that depict a group of young women snorting cocaine could be read as a kind of sequel or coda to the Cousin Diptych, performances of glamour and excitement whose veracity remains opaque. These images, with their turbocharged parody of 80s excess, present themselves as paparazzi snapshots, but as we read the image, deciphering the details of the girls’ clothes, jewellery and facial expressions, a sense of artifice begins to emerge: the costume jewels, the impossibly feathered bangs, the comical rhinestone coke straws. Todd isn’t really interested in the party, or the act of drug-taking, but in the rituals which surround them. These images are about inhabiting a posture of glamour and coolness, and the way this behaviour can both prop up a sense of self and simultaneously obscure and marginalise it.