Deborah Paauwe’s photographs investigate identity and gender roles and the blurred boundary between being a girl and being a woman. Often it takes a moment to decipher the age of her subject – or subjects – because the usual clues lie hidden behind a confection of brightly coloured vintage dresses, bows, feathers and sequins.

Paauwe’s models’ faces are never seen. They turn their backs, hide behind a curtain of hair or hold up hand mirrors and fans. They can stand for anyone’s wife, mother, sister or daughter.

Paauwe leaves her photographs deliberately ambiguous so that viewers can choose their own meanings. Sometimes printing an image in its final large format reveals a previously unnoticed bruise or scar that makes her change her mind about the work’s significance.

Paauwe was awarded the prestigious Anne & Gordon Samstag Scholarship and studied at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. In 2008 she was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to photograph Australian fashion designers Sass & Bide.

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