|Description:||This project began with my interest in the photographic portrait and its ability to create a feeling of distance between the viewer and the subject. There can be an immediate connection with a face on a page, but not always. Sometimes it is enigmatic and leaves you with a sense of wondering. The power of the photographic portrait is one that I find fascinating. Photographyâ€™s indexical nature has always given it an association with truth, the portrait an association with identity. For me the portraitâ€™s greatest intrigue and its inevitable downfall that it is both indexical but undoubtedly false.
In the 1800s photography began to be used to define whole parts of the world. These ethnographic portraits were taken with intention. Their aim was to document their findings in these new worlds, using photography to confirm the identity of a new race and show its difference from the West. This visual barrier, this exaggerated sense of the unknown and unfamiliar created by these early portraits of â€˜nativesâ€™ intrigued me. They used photography to enforce a feeling of distance, of foreign, of unfamiliar, of otherness. I began to look more into this period of portrait making that seemed to serve such an important role at the time, helping to allocate power and sustain social hierarchy.
For some of these early photographers â€˜othernessâ€™ was to be preserved and protected, as in Edward Curtisâ€™ series of North American Indians. For others, photography enabled experiments in cultural change as seen in Thomas Andrewâ€™s portraits of Samoan women, portraits that resemble renaissance painting. Tribes were photographed in vernacular attire but also in western dress, the distance felt between the western viewer and the subject changing with each. I began to question myself as a portrait maker in relation to this period and the people who were both in front of and behind the camera. I wondered what made someone â€˜otherâ€™? Must they bare some mark or sign? Curtis dressed up his subjects to mask any sign of western adaptation and to maintain an â€˜authentic othernessâ€™, I did the opposite, stripping my subjects to encourage ambiguity.
I wanted to challenge this feeling of distance and reveal photographyâ€™s role in its creation. These are people in my world. Unlike Curtis and the American Indians they are close to me, they share my experience. Stripped bare they stare, held between the world they came from and that created by photography and by the viewersâ€™ gaze. It is only in this space that they exist as distant, as other, a moment caught on a surface inside a box.