From photoworks’ interview with Frances F. Denny for their “Ideas on Talent” series:
PW: Your series ‘Let Virtue be your Guide’ looks at your family history in relation to the themes of femininity. By photographing the different generations of women in your family, what did you learn about your own legacy?
FFD: In graduate school, I became interested in the concept of virtue, and ended up adapting the title of ‘Let Virtue Be Your Guide’ from a 1982 Rhode Island Historical Society exhibition of colonial girls’ embroidery samplers. Historically, “virtue” relates to a woman’s chastity and moral uprightness, and I began thinking about how the definition of women’s virtue (or morality) has evolved over time. Through my pictures, I related this shifting sense of “virtue” to the women in my family. My title sounds like a piece of advice – “Let Virtue Be Your Guide” – in that way, I mean to elicit a questioning in my viewers of what “virtue” might actually mean nowadays. If the photographs describe my relatives’ version of female virtue, I aim to ultimately leave my viewer with this question of “What is virtue, now?” My hope is that her definition of virtue is something she comes to define independently, personally, and as an individual–that “virtue” isn’t just handed down through a person’s family or culture.