Monday 6 June 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

Cindy Palmano is a British photographer. She made photographs for Tori from her debut album Little Earthquakes in 1992 to Boys for Pele in 1996. She also directed all of the four videos of Little Earthquakes and " Pretty Good Year" from Under the Pink. Before working with Tori, she also made artwork for artists such as Black Sabbath or Pet Shop Boys in the late 80’s and fashion photographs for Vivienne Westwood and Kate Forbes.

Cindy Palmano met Tori through Elyse Taylor, who worked at East West in 1991 and suggested that the two women, who were the same age, work together. The 1st video they shot was "Silent All These Years", which pictured Tori trapped in a wooden box. The pictures of the video were also used as artwork for the Little Earthquakes booklet and the cover photograph for the album showed as well Tori in the same dressing outfit in the wooden box with a tiny blue piano. *

The photos and videos translated perfectly the atmosphere of the album and its thematic. Tori often explained that after the failure of Y Kant Tori Read, she was depressed and that a friend encouraged her to go back to the piano and express herself. She cleaned her closet by letting out feelings she had kept inside herself for many years, thus allowing herself to find the little girl inside of her. She often said that, as she played piano since she was really little, it allowed her to find a shelter from the strict Christian atmosphere of her home. « When you’re young, you’re being told what to think. But I’d go to the piano and that’s where I was comforted. It was my protector, the protector of my thoughts. » (Keyboard Magazine, septembre 1992) So this is no surprise we see a little girl running through the video.

In the video for "Winter", a song in which Tori talks about her childhood memories with her father and her fear to grow up, there are plenty of children in daisy costumes dancing with her as she gets back to her child feelings. The two videos have in common a minimalist layout: blank background for "Silent All These Years" and white then black background for "Winter", Tori is always at the center of the focus as well as few objects chosen for their symbolic meaning, which creates a pure mental space in which Tori hides herself. Cindy Palmano commented in an interview for the fanzine Really Deep Thoughts in 1994 that the box was « a simplification of the idea of Alice in Wonderland. » referring to the moment in the fairy tale when the young heroine is de-scaled after eating a mushroom and becomes a giant in the white rabbit’s house.

Cindy Palmano also directed the video for "Crucify" but resented the record company for getting in the way of her vision. « The record company wanted to edit it in a different way. It got a bit uncomfortable, so they finished it off and I didn’t. » So the segment of Tori singing and swaying at her piano isn’t Palmano’s work but fans very much appreciated the bath moment when Tori, dressed in a queen-like outfit walks to a white bathtub filled with water poured down from the ceiling to be christened like she was the late wife of king Henry VII, Ann Boleyn, walking to the headsman to be beheaded. Tori, who has a passion for history, told in the audio commentary of Fade to Red’s DVD (the almost-complete collection of her videos from 1992 to 2005) that the unfortunate Ann Boleyn was on her mind as Palmano and her shot the video.

The photographs for Under the Pink had the same quality we found on Little Earthquakes’s pictures: very minimalist layout, almost abstract or, as Tori put it they had a sort of « impressionistic paintings » feel. In an almost empty green room that seems to be endless, Tori is standing in a white cotton dress, plastic bags are displayed on the floor in circle and one of the pictures shows Tori asleep in this big circle with de-scaled objects such as a giant egg and a giant feather.

Palmano only directed one video for the album, which included four other ones. "Pretty Good Year" shows again a minimalist layout (an almost empty room with big windows) and, as it is the photographer’s last video for Tori, we have a feel of closure, the singer being back in a wooden box and a closet. The theme of breaking free and finding one’s own voice is pretty much central in the video, which begins by Tori breaking in by flying through the window, trapping herself inside the room. The way the image of breaking free from a situation is reversed illustrates powerfully the song, that Tori reportedly wrote about a fan, a young man who was only 23 but had the feeling that his life was over. The next photographs Cindy Palmano will then make for Tori’s next album, in 1996, will be completely different.

Boys for Pele, Tori’s third album, is her most experimental work and deals with the dark feminine, all of the things a woman can hide in her subconscious. Claiming her own fire, Tori is angry, sexy, provocative, sad, self-destructive or murderous and the lyrics refer a lot to various myths. Palmano’s pictures reflect this dark side as well as the feminine and sexy side of the singer and myths are definitely part of these photographs. On the cover as well as on part of the inside pictures, we see Tori as a sexy and fierce southern farm girl, sat on a rocking chair, her bare leg covered in mud, holding a riffle in her hands with an enigmatic smile on her face. Turkeys are hanging from the ceiling, a snake crawls at her feet, and we also see cows and pigs in the other pictures.

The photographs thus present a quite stunning vision of American myth crossed with religious references. Besides American symbols we could find in a western (ranch, rocking chair, riffle, fields...) there’s also a snake crawling at her feet and a photo (one of the most infamous) hijacks the representation of Mother Mary with baby Jesus by showing Tori in a barn, her blouse wide opened barely hiding her breasts, breastfeeding a piglet. The picture made quite a scandal, which seemed to amuse Tori who said that it was a Christmas card for her parents. The artist having quite an obsession with Mary Magdalene and the way the Church eluded her because of her sexuality, such a picture, mixing sacred and profane, isn’t surprising and we could link it to Tori’s personal concept of « marrying the two Marys » that she often evoked. Besides, the picture is certainly one of the most gorgeous of the album.

Other pictures are more a representation of modern America and show Tori in the parking lot of a gas station, standing by her burning piano. The photographs thus match the artist’s vision in Boys for Pele: she traces back her bloodline by recording the album in Ireland (she has Irish blood from her father) then in Southern America in New Orleans, Louisiana and questions the myths that have conditioned her life as an American from a conservative christian home, with all the contradictions it supposes.

These mythic pictures, in which Christian symbols are at the same level as typical American ones, remind us also how much America, with its recent and bloody history, had to create its own myths to raise itself, even though those myths of West conquest are also shadowed by a repressed part of its history, as the Native American slaughter.

The quality of these pictures and the way they connect to the album are representative of the collaboration of Tori Amos and Cindy Palmano and of the attention the artist gives to the visual elements that accompany her albums. « I want to portray certain things visually, and we do. » said Tori in an interview to Keyboard Magazine in 1996. She always spoke highly of Palmano during these years, saying that « she just captures people, she has that ability » and a lot of her pictures are fan’s favorites.

When it seemed that Cindy Palmano had become Tori Amos official photographer, they parted ways after Boys for Pele. Reportedly, Palmano decided to take a break from photography to raise her family. Except an advert for Chrysler in 1998, no record can be found of her following works, which may mean that she retired completely from professional photography.