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Photo Essay: You Animal, You!

The fine artist speaks to us about her new show where animal portraits are superimposed onto Victorian Carte-de-visite to unsettling effects

Tonight the Royal Suite at the St. Pancras Hotel will be hosting the launch of 'You Animal, You!', a new book by Charlotte Cory, published by Black Dog Publishing. The image-led compendium of animal portraits superimposed onto Victorian Carte-de-visite is punctuated by essays contextualising the artist’s work and explaining the long-lost culture of the calling card and Cory’s motivation to revive it. We speak to the artist ahead of tonight’s launch to find out more about her unusual approach and why the archaic imagery used throughout her work attracts such popularity today.

Children are quite obsessed with the works and that’s because I think the pictures are all short stories told without words

Dazed Digital: Where did the idea for the 'You Animal, You!' series come from?
Charlotte Cory:
I have had a stuffed sparrow in a little glass box all my life. It was given to me by my grandmother who said it had belonged to her father who was an artist. Not a famous one, I might add. I used to draw the sparrow. I remember one weekend when I was about 15, drawing him over and over again. Since then, everywhere I have been, I have gone into natural history museums and drawn the animals and birds. I remember standing for hours in the baking heat in Nairobi sketching vultures.

Another longstanding passion is Victorian photography and ideas around that. I used to sepia tone my black and white prints with potassium pomanaganate - I ruined many enamel baths in rented flats over the years. It was only a matter of time before I started putting these two interests together. I did my first Visitorian (the creatures are all based on Victorian Cartes-de-visite) in May 2005 - and haven't looked back. I now have a whole alternative 19th Century as populated and varied as any Dickens novel.

DD: Do you consider your work to be fine art and if so, why?
Charlotte Cory: Of course it is fine art. There is so much thinking beneath the surface. Everyone who looks at the works reacts - sometimes in a straightforward, simple way, sometimes in a more complex way. Children are quite obsessed with the works and that’s because, in many ways I think the pictures are all short stories told without words.

DD: Do you set out trying to create an image that is either funny or disturbing, or do these aspects emerge of their own accord?
Charlotte Cory: I don’t really try to do anything. I let the images happen. I don’t really find them funny or disturbing but I know other people do. A friend who had left her partner, arrived on my doorstep at midnight and I put her up in my studio, which happened to have a lot of pictures all round the floor as they were going off to an exhibition the next day. She said that she had never had such vivid nightmares. Someone else told me that they had fallen in love with one of my characters, who then kept appearing in his dreams. He was quite disturbed by it. I find it strange in some ways that people react so strongly, although maybe I shouldn’t because I think about the characters all the time.

Charlotte Cory is an artist, novelist, journalist and playwright. Her latest book, You Animal, You!, will be available to purchase this week