This is a selection of photographs I have taken of skulls, of photographs I have taken that happened to have skulls or skeletons in them, and of self-portraits I have taken of me holding a skull, or wearing an accessory (an earring or a scarf, for example) with a skull design on it.
I always liked skulls, though the nearest I can get to working out why this should be so is a childhood memory of a pirate treasure map my big brother once drew on a scrap of paper. He covered it with cryptic instructions, a compass point, the plan of a non-existent island and – most excitingly – a skull and crossbones. Then he artificially aged it by folding it until it was brittle and tearing the edges so that it looked (to my credulous little girl’s eyes) authentic. Then he deliberately left it where I would find it.
I’m not sure why my brother would have gone to all this trouble, but he always liked teasing me (he once convinced me there was a creature that lived under the stairs and ate children like me – it was called The Hall Monster), so it might have just been an amusing ploy to wind me up; I was quite a serious child with an overactive imagination. So find the map I duly did, after which I went slightly mad trying to find the treasure, which of course had never existed in the first place. So maybe my liking for skulls is linked, somewhere in my subconscious, to a search for the glittering prizes that are always out of reach.
Anyhow, shortly after I left home in the 1970s to go to art college, a friend gave me a sheep’s skull. Another friend gave me a set of skull-shaped salt and pepper shakers. Another friend gave me an inflatable skeleton. And so the collection began. I amassed china skulls, paper skulls, plastic skulls, a skull on a stick, glasses with skulls on them, quite a lot of small rubber skeletons and – the pride of my collection – a skull that glowed in the dark, painstakingly constructed from a DIY set.
By the early 1980s, the collection was getting out of hand and I needed to move house, so I gathered the skulls together for one last communal photograph (you can see it at the top of this page), and then got rid of nearly all of them.
But then, as tends to happen whenever I try to get rid of things, I inadvertently started collecting them again.
The pride of my current skull collection is a real human skull which I bought on French eBay in 2003. It was my first ever eBay bid and I was surprised to find the skull on offer in the first place, since I’d thought that real human skulls were not something you could buy legally, or that if you could they would be very, very expensive. A friend, who was showing me how an eBay account worked, talked me through the process so that, under his guidance, I put in my bid at the very last second, and won. One hundred euros. (This was back in the days when I had money, before the recession and the general downsizing of arts journalism.) It came from the south of France, looked like part of a medical student’s kit (the top was held on by a hinge) and was in pretty good condition, apart from having only one tooth. You can see some pictures of it in this gallery.