A girl sits on a toilet, naked, with blood running from her nose down her chest. There's a speculum in her vagina. She has a black eye. Her name's Meg McCarville, and she recently got her BFA from UIC. She staged this photo and a couple hundred similar ones--including some where she's got a swastika painted on her chest in blood--and had a friend shoot them with a digital camera as part of her final project. They're stylized and campy--some might even say glamorous. "We didn't really want them to look realistic. I mean, we got the recipe for the blood off the Internet," says McCarville.
She made new prints of the photos last month to show at Gently With a Chainsaw, a widely attended art show at Open End Gallery curated by TENbyTEN editorial assistant Lindsey Delahanty. (The show opened on May 7 and ran for ten days.)
Actually the prints were made from a CD of digital images McCarville took to a Wal-Mart in Elk Grove Village in April. It's cheap, fast, and right down the street from her mom's house, where McCarville stays a couple times a week. Though she says she'd previously asked if Wal-Mart would develop photos involving nudity and an employee told her no, she brought in the disc anyway. They'd made prints of her bruised and bloody before. Plus, she says, "they got a new machine where you just put in a CD and it seemed like a person wouldn't see anything, that your photos would just print out right away."
When she went back an hour later to pick up her 200 four-by-six prints, she says, an employee told her the machine was broken and asked if she could come back the next day. A few hours later, around 7 PM, she got a phone call saying the machine was fixed and she could come get her photos anytime before they closed at 9.
McCarville got there around 8:30. The clerk started looking for her pictures but couldn't find them. This is so weird, said the clerk. They were just sitting right here. I have no idea where they went. But there's a number at the bottom of your receipt--maybe we filed it under that code. Do you have it?
McCarville ran out to her car to get the receipt, and as she unlocked the door she heard a man shout, There she is! From the shadows appeared a cop in uniform, a security guard, and a Wal-Mart employee. What are you doing in your car? one asked.
McCarville's mind started racing. "I've shoplifted from there multiple times," she says, "and I thought they had some kind of weird security system where they had me on record and just now caught me."
Looking for these? asked the officer, holding up all McCarville's photos in a big Wal-Mart envelope.
I was looking for my receipt to get them, yeah, she said, laughing.
Whose are these? asked the cop. What are these?
They're my photos. They're for an art show. It's my art--it's what I do.
Oh yeah? Where's the show?
In Chicago, she replied. She could tell she wasn't getting anywhere. Look at them, she told the cop. They're all of me. Look at all of them. I'm standing right here. I'm fine. It's totally consensual--it was my idea to take all the photos. It was my idea. This is what my art is. It's my performance art.
Performance art? scoffed the cop. You do this in front of people?
I do it just for the camera, said McCarville.
Well, these are pretty racy photographs, the cop said. Wal-Mart's a family store. You shouldn't be taking photographs like this to Wal-Mart. Actually, they're more than racy. You have things shoved up you. Do you like this?
I don't do this for pleasure. It's just for an art show in Chicago.
It was really a bad idea to take these to Wal-Mart, the cop replied.
I don't want any trouble like this. I promise I won't do it again, McCarville said.
Hold on a second, he said, and got on the radio.
Just then another police car rolled up. "I asked the [security guard] what was going to happen," she says, "and he said he didn't even know why he was there. He seemed bored." The backup stayed in the car.
We're going to take these, the cop told her, tucking the envelope under his arm. You can get them back in a few days. Our evidence department has to take a look at them.
You sure they're going to give them to me? McCarville asked.
If everything checks out, sure, he told her. He gave her the phone number of the evidence department, and she went back to her mom's house.
A couple days later she went to the police department. "An officer came out with the photos in an evidence bag, and he made me sign a form that said I was involved in a 'suspicious incident,'" she says. (According to Elk Grove Village police sergeant Mike Kirkpatrick, the form she signed was just a property inventory report.)
Is this on my record? she asked.
I'm not sure what these photos are, said the officer, but it won't be on your record.
She left. "I'm so glad this happened," she says. "My photos were free. The cops paid for them."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzy Poling.