Art is a tool to start conversations, raise questions and create relationships.
The camera is a blunt tool, but a flexible one, it can serve as a microscope, spotlight, love note, and always as a mirror.
Like most everyone, my relationship with photography began as a subject of the camera, nearly immediately after birth.
I am 5 years old. My sister and I are in matching purple short-alls with little flower buttons We are about to have our pictures taken. I am excited about what is behind us, a photo backdrop of a field of daffodils and beyond a mountain. The occasion is Easter after all. The photographer, a youngish woman instructs me to lay on my stomach on, what I will much later learn is called the “posing table”, a carpet covered stage. But I am not too young not to understand submission and an outraged and confused feeling rises when she then instructs my younger and chubby sister to straddle my back. How could this adult, imbued with inherent authority make such a ridiculous demand? I turn towards my mother, anticipating her to intercede, but to my shock, she smiles and urges me to turn toward the camera and smile….
This memory, foundational to my work, showed me that before every photograph there is a tiny performance.
This first motivated me to take photographs that examined the ubiquitous, but ignored, social and aesthetic custom of the modern studio portrait. The very place where the above memory was formed.
I conducted an undercover operation where I took a job as a portrait photographer at a JcPenny portrait studio. Working just as much as a cultural anthropologist, as an artist, I made photographs of customers, my subjects, while documenting my process.
I delight in the ways, both subtle and dramatic, that people perform for the camera. How we all attempt to achieve an ideal in our photographic likeness, and the wonderful moments that occur when we inevitably fail.
Despite the time and care people take when having their pictures taken at commercial studios, the resulting photographs are rarely considered to be aesthetic objects. However, they reveal a great deal about how we choose to image our relationships and ourselves.
This concern is no better reflected than in Spirit, where the failure to maintain perfect synchronicity reveals the true girl behind the mask of competitive cheerleading.
Based on this work, the Brooklyn Historical Society commissioned me to create portraits of the residence of Brooklyn. Each resident of the borough who volunteered to pose for my camera offered demographic and personal information to be added to the catalog. In addition, each participant also received a copy of his or her photograph.
To find as wide of demographic sampling as possible, I moved my studio outdoors and erected makeshift studios in parks. I had once been interested in how an individual might be lost in the trappings of archetypes, moving outside, moved the subject of my photographs, as well.
A stranger on the street is approached by another stranger. She has a camera, and a mobile studio complete with lights and backdrop. What was once a private conversation between sitter, camera and photographer, is now a form of street theater. After I completed the Face of Brooklyn project, my interest in the triangulation between the sitter, photographer and camera expanded into an interest in photography as a mode of theater and community.
In Free Sitting Portrait Booth, a series of collaborations in New York, the participants orchestrated their own portraits. The portrait studio came on to the street. Only after it first was part sculpture installation, part performance could the result end in a photograph.
The act of making a portrait becomes a form of social sculpture as passers by enter the portrait studio space with other bystanders who, together, form new, fictive families for the camera. Their imaginary relationships are immortalized in these family portraits, as they also become participants in the performance.