My Father’s Legs is a small pocket booklet that contains a universe so far unexplored: the irresistible charm of male legs. If at first sight it may seem simply the visual exploration of a part of the body, the work of Sara Perovic, Croatian photographer and architect, is actually the result of a profound reflection on the relationship between man and woman, and more specifically on the role who plays the male figure in the adult relationships of every woman.
My Father’s Legs • Sara Perovic
Sara’s project starts from a purely autobiographical experience, but still manages to raise universal issues: from the dynamics that are established between father and daughter, until the overturning of the male figure as an observed object and no longer an observing subject, especially if associated with the seductive potential of specific parts of the body.
The book, published by J&L Books e designed by Jason Fulford, collects serially the photographs that Sara took at her partner’s legs, inspired by the archival material that portrays her tennis teacher father in specific textbook positions.
Archival images and “original” photographs coexist in this pastel-colored booklet, creating a visual parallel between past and present, but above all between the father and his partner, two figures who play a fundamental role for Sara in defining her identity of woman: daughter, partner, and also mother.
We talked to Sara Perovic to find out more.
How did the idea of the project come about?
The project was born from a phrase that Andrea Copetti (Tipi Bookshop) said during a workshop: “Everybody has to kill his own father.” It raised an important issue, that of the relationship with the father figure, and at that moment I thought that perhaps I too would have something to say about it. I did not have a traumatic childhood, on the contrary, I had a very solid and positive family, but my father said it was a bit “military”, for him discipline came first. Besides, I have always been very obedient, I was mostly rebellious inside … So, after that workshop, I thought that even if there was no problem in the relationship with my father, I still had something to solve towards the role that the father figure played in my life.
What role does tennis play in your relationship with your father?
Thinking about his figure and our relationship, it was inevitable to think of tennis, which over the years has united us but at the same time distanced us. I was born in Pula, in a small town, to a middle class family. My father worked and in the afternoon rounded up being a tennis coach, so he was never there. And when my sister and I went to see him we were forced to play on the tennis courts. For that reason, I hated tennis as a child, but it was the only way to be close to my father, and it was also what he gave us to eat.
Thinking about tennis, I started collecting all the materials we had at home, and I found a left-handed tennis manual written by my grandfather – he was also a tennis player – in 1984, when I was born. As a child I always thought that the gentleman on the cover was my father, and instead it was simply John McEnroe. Inside, however, there are photographs of my father illustrating the positions of a tennis player. These are the images from which I took inspiration for the book and which I included in the beginning and end of the book. This manual was the starting point for My Father’s Legs, both as regards the archive images, but also because I took the font found on the first page.
From the idea to the definition something has changed. How did the project develop?
In my initial idea there were a lot of still life with rackets and other elements that recalled tennis. Then, referring to the shaped images of my father, I began to put my partner in the same positions. In 2018 I did a portfolio review with Jason Fulford and he immediately pushed me to focus on the detail of the legs, he saw a lot of potential in this. We stayed in touch and together we decided to focus only on this aspect of the project, which was initially larger but less homogeneous.
Together with Jason I found a way to create a project that reflected on the father-daughter relationship but in a light way, without dramatic nuances. I think it’s possible to tell a story in this way too, without taking yourself too seriously.
Looking at the close ups of your partner’s legs, I think about the moment of shooting. How did it work between you?
For me it was the first time I made staged images. I am not looking for particular shots, but obviously I direct my partner to position himself. I acted as a director and for me it was really strange, even more if we think that it was me, a woman, who directed my partner, a man. It was like taking over the scepter of power. Also in the idea of the project itself, I think there is a very important political aspect: finally there is a book showing male legs, one after the other, as if it were a catalog. After centuries of objectification of the female body, my project, in its small way, overturns the point of view.
I find it interesting how with this project you managed to draw a line that connects the relationship with your father and that with your partner. After all, it is known that the father figure is fundamental in the relationships that we then formulate in adulthood.
Yes, absolutely. It’s funny, because the first time I saw my partner I immediately thought of the phrase that my mother said “I fell in love with your father because of his beautiful legs”. And now, when my daughter leafs through the book and recognizes the figure of her father in her legs, it makes me smile … in short, it seems to me that the circle has closed.
What role does the family play in your work?
Over time I realized that it has a central role and that all my work is very autobiographical. I am currently working on a project that I made with PARALLEL (I am part of the third cycle of the program), which talks about my daughter, her childhood and the gaps in my memory. Tackling the family theme through photography leads me to better understand what it means to be a mother. For me, photography is analysis and I can’t help using it to better understand myself, my memories, and my origins.