It’s easy to dismiss Poppy de Villeneuve as a girl-about-town with splendid connections (her mother Jan was a famous fashion model in the 60s, her father Justin was a photographer credited for discovering Twiggy and her sister Daisy is quite a well-known illustrator who regularly graces the society pages). But her first solo exhibition entitled ‘This is a Story of Hope and We are All Characters in it’ in Paradise Row provided a venue with which to scrutinize, not her pedigree or even her social capital (although the excellent turnout did prove that it doesn’t hurt to have a lot of friends) but her talent. The exhibition was a testament that behind the socialite façade lays depth and compassion intrinsic both in the photographs and the photographer.
The exhibit was a culmination of de Villeneuve’s trip to Rio Grande, where she had initially planned to document the migration of the Monarch butterfly but ended up taking photos of people who live in the desolate desert that flanks the Rio Grande (the river separating Texas and Mexico) instead. The landscape and the state of the place was the juxtaposition of the American Dream, the complete opposite of the fame that Hollywood represents or the wealth that New York embodies. Instead of fame or fortune, the people and the desert gave one the impression of hopelessness and defeat. But de Villeneuve was reluctant to portray her subjects as forever rooted in their wretched surroundings and opted instead to photograph them against simple backgrounds, silently pointing the viewer to the Humanist belief in empathy as purportedly articulated in the pictures. However, the six portraits failed to capture any empathy from the viewer as although the photographs were quite stark and vivid, the subjects seemed to lack any emotion. Some of the pictures though, notably two landscapes were powerful and lucid in their imagery.
de Villeneuve’s documentary-style photographs, though certainly not in the same league as Lee Miller’s or Henri Cartier-Bresson’s, has that glint of potential. And as a young photographer in the process of honing her skills and her style, de Villeneuve still has a lot to offer. Socialite or not, as a photographer, de Villeneuve is one to watch.
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