In many ways, the crisp, pristine quality of New Zealand artist Yvonne Todd’s photographs – currently showing at the Centre for Contemporary Photography – are reminiscent of certain strains of commercial photography. The arcane dance of her subjects, however, tells a very different story.

Curated by Serena Bentley, Wall of Seahorsel is an exhibition of conscious juxtaposition, where fictive characters are set against the grey of a studio backdrop, each performing bizarre, unintelligible acts. Dance Gorgon Style (2011) shows three women side-on, their faces blurred by pixilation. Wielding sticks, they dance in unison, wearing velvet ponchos and matching neck braces.

The nonsensical element continues in photographs like Hope (2011) where a doll-faced model clad in a nude unitard crouches, gesturing outwards with her hands for no apparent reason. The artist explains that “the costumes defy categorisation”, her avatars continuing to strike poses in a kind of hypothetical play, of which we’ve been denied the script. In rebellion, we begin to make up our own narrative of a people whose constructed rituals highlight the artificiality of our own.

In contrast, Todd frames Wall of Man – which is carefully arranged and hung in the second gallery – as a “tightly contained” series. Steely CEO-types gaze out in the appropriated style of senior corporate portraiture, where the subject matter is so familiar it teeters on the banal. But small details begin to expose Todd’s sitters as frauds. Missing fingers, overtly pink faces and unnaturally sparkly eyes divulge the careful craft of mimicry. It’s all intentional for Todd, who hired each model to act out their carefully assigned careers, from Retired Urologist (2009) to Image Consultant (2009). Are these images an example of realism fantasised or fantasy realised? It's definitely a show that begs the question.

Wall of Seahorsel runs until April 1 2012 at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy.

ccp.org.au