In March 2014, Stefanie Moshammer received a frightening letter through the post. Troy C had written the photographer a love letter, although he had only met her once, and the two had only had a brief conversation. Stalkers are everyone’s worst nightmare – they lead to paranoia, and the feeling that someone is just behind you, watching you and tracing your every step.
Stefanie transformed this experience into a starting point from which to discuss American culture and men’s idea of how to pursue women. “The story reflects the idea of love and delusion”, she explains. The title of the photographic series, I Can Be Her, suggests that obsession has nothing to do with the object of desire but is about the perceiver. “In this story”, Stefanie tells us, “it doesn’t really matter who I am because Troy has created his own perception of me. He invented me to become the woman he wanted”. It tells us more about his personality than hers.
In the series, Stefanie reverses the roles. She acts as the voyeur, creating her own image of him and the culture that had defined him. “The series represents past, present and future, covered by layers of dreams, feelings and obsessions”, she comments.
The foundation for the photography is the letter, from which Stefanie draws images and ideas. If she had been seduced by Troy, he would have given her a “special fast car that’s almost new” and “a ticket to US citizenship”. This orientation towards American consumerist culture, the glitz and glam of Las Vegas, permeates throughout the images; there are images of flashing jewels, dollar bills, cars, motels, American flags and stamps. The series discusses topics that move between love, identity, cultural influence and surveillance.
The project emphasises that the world he promises is fictional and that love and obsession is often an illusion; a bird, symbolic of America’s eagle, hangs limp and dead from a post, a sign reads “it will end in tears”, and prickles warn of an unrealistic and painful journey.
At one point during the project, Stefanie visited his house, turning the gaze directly and literally onto him. “I think this was the only moment where I was really scared”, she explains. “It was in the middle of the night, completely dark. I was with two friends, and we threw the car spotlights onto the house. I took one photo from inside the car and then got out to walk towards his property. Suddenly a light turned on in the house, so I ran back to the car and sat frozen in fear”.
Stefanie, however, was keen to emphasise that the series is not so much about Troy but about romantic fiction. Throughout I Can Be Her there are photographs of anonymous women, their faces covered by material or blurred out. “Faces are hidden because this story is not about a certain person”, she explains. It is that well-known tale of fantasy and desire, of what our cultural expectations project onto a person and how we create characters within our heads. “I can be her”, Stefanie tells us, “but so could any other woman. Troy can be him, but he could also be any other man. Therefore, I included portraits of men I found on the internet, that looked similar to Troy”, blurring the lines between fiction and reality, just as he had done before her.