Art Portraiture and Photography in Six Feet Under

An examination of Claire's portraiture in Six Feet Under.

Six Feet Under

Network: HBO

In terms of popular discussion, Six Feet Under has been hailed for tackling an unorthodox subject matter, for its filmic production values, its multi-faceted representation of homosexual relationships, and much more. But rarely does one find comment surrounding its use of art photography, and the insight that this offers us into its characters. Yet, as viewers, we are fully aware that the character of Claire in SFU and her story arc are very much driven by her artistic aspirations.

At the beginning of the show, the aimless teenage girl is caught grappling with her father’s death, which she struggles to contextualize alongside her adolescence. But in the second series, her Aunt Sarah pronounces her an artist, and as such, her pursuit of the imaginative form propels her from complacency to a state of self-enquiry. Considering the impact of this event on her character development, I thought it would be fitting to take a look at some of Claire’s portraiture, and to consider their narrative implications.

Medusa Self Portrait

The first of Claire’s pieces that can be found in the program was revealed before her character officially proclaimed any creative aspirations. Specifically, I am referring to the “Medusa Self Portrait” that hung in her room from the very beginning. The piece, which was created by the artist, Margot Lovinger was made with charcoal, ink-based, and collage materials that would be available to a teenager. The significance of using the Medusa-like character is particularly expressive here because it captures her angry revulsion. Both shabby and inspired, the picture is evocative of Claire’s impending journey into the world, and is one of many set pieces that hint at her enquiring self-reflection.

Portrait of Billy

When Brenda’s brother Billy invites Claire to take naked pictures of him, he propels her on a flight of exciting self-discovery. In this enthralling scene, Billy hands Claire a camera, and directs her quietly -- unlocking her potential with each instruction. The moment is especially harrowing because of both its compromising and voyeuristic nature. The tortured Billy tentatively unmasks his layers of hurt, and offers Claire the chance to document them in an oddly exploitative manner. The teenage photographer is riveted, equally by the unveiling of her own talent, and by Billy’s shocking vulnerability. And although he is little more than a stranger to her, this act connects the pair for the show’s entire duration. The resulting portrait that is chosen in the broadcast is both remarkably beautiful, and frightening – the spine of Billy’s back pulses through the print, revealing hidden insight into both his character and his photographer.


In season 3, Claire is one of the few first year art-school students to have a piece presented in the alumni art show. Although many of the other artworks are selling, Claire’s does not. Her friends and family seem perplexed by her darkly comic image, which presents an overweight woman, and a young man lounging about half-naked at a mortuary. But the portrait, and its title are pivotal. The name “Duratrans” for instance, acts as ironic commentary in that it means “transparency”, which is a blatant contradiction of the Fisher’s seemingly ‘normal’ façade. Moreover, the subjects of Claire’s photograph are also able to freely inhabit the graveyard, whilst Claire’s very own family is forced to cover up its bearings.

Art Photos

When blood erupts in the Fisher house due to a plumbing default, Claire’s gut reaction is to capture the aftermath. The resulting photograph of a cereal bowl filled with blood and a spoon; holds a potent subtext. Although it is obvious that the Fisher family has always earned their living from the dead, this particular picture depicts this fact visually. The idea that the Fishers are feeding themselves from a blood soaked bowl is a frank, and starling image that unravels the despairing nature of their lives.

Claire Self Portrait

Later on in the series, Claire attempts to achieve a certain ‘arty’ state of self-reflection in her photography. Her brother Nate is quick to notice that something is awry, “you trying to become a model now”? He quizzes. His sister reacts defensively to the accusation, arguing that she was attempting to capture something far more subliminal. However, executive producer, Alan Poul has stated that Claire’s “empty gaze” was in fact “superficial and mannered”. As such, this portrayal suggests to the viewer that despite Claire’s aspirations, she is still caught up in her own hyper-consciousness. Grappling with the tensions of her teachers and herself, it becomes evident that her traditional ‘art school’ setting sometimes conflicts with her true artistic identity.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.