Sam Taylor-Wood's photographs and film installations depict human dramas and isolated emotional instances, such as a quarreling couple and tense social gatherings—people in solitary, awkward, or vulnerable moments. These psychologically charged narratives are often presented on a grand scale, in room-encompassing video projections or 360-degree photographic panoramas accompanied by sound tracks. In her Soliloquy series (1998–99), Taylor-Wood's cinematic sensibility is coupled with references to the history of painting. The photographs are structured like Renaissance altarpieces and predellas (iconographically related panels attached along altarpiece bases): a large-format portrait is paired with a panoramic image below. Captured in a personal moment of self-reflection, asleep, or daydreaming, the subjects are often depicted in poses borrowed from well-known paintings. In Soliloquy I (1998), for example, the languid pose of the sleeping man recalls that of the dying poet in Henry Wallis's The Death of Chatterton (1865), and in Soliloquy III (1998), the reclining nude recalls Velázquez's Rokeby Venus (1650).
Typically, the people portrayed in Taylor-Wood's works are self-absorbed and seemingly detached from their own environment. The title of this series is derived from the name of the theatrical monologue during which an actor disrupts the narrative to directly address the audience with some commentary on the story. That state of deliberate disengagement is implied by the dual images comprising each work: the larger photo represents the conscious state of the subject, while the filmic tableau below provides a register of his or her subconscious fantasies. Sometimes the characters reappear in this imaginary world—the nude from Soliloquy III sits at the back of the loft space, dressed in red, observing at a distance the erotic activities that occur before her. In Soliloquy II (1998), the shirtless male figure, who, in the large image, is surrounded by dogs (in a pose reminiscent of a Thomas Gainsborough hunting portrait), appears seated with a dog in the corner of the bathhouse setting of the “predella.” Reality invades fantasy when a dog's tail or the sleeping figure's hand crosses from the top image into the panel below, scale unchanged—a grotesque intrusion into the imaginary realm.