Each character is conceived through any combination of my experiences, such as my perception of a stranger’s presentation of themselves or a memory from my past that just will not go away. When a character starts to emerge from my imagination, I attempt to create him or her in plastiline clay. Once satisfied with the sculpture, I photograph it in the studio with a blank backdrop. Concurrently, I build up a library of images by photographing walls, floors and any other objects or environments relevant to the concept for the image or the personality of the character. I load all of these photographs into the computer and begin the digital phase of my process. First I bring my characters to life by digitally painting skin tones onto the grey sculpture and adding color to the clothing. Photos of eyes are integrated onto the face and the finishing touches are added. Next a preliminary arrangement of photos are collaged around the figure in order to create the environment. The rest of my process is a combination of working and reworking the image by arranging, shooting, reshooting, and digitally drawing objects that make up the environment until it is finished.
A video about my process . . . https://www.nytimes.com/video/magazine/1194817108550/image-craft.html
“We risk being the first people in history to have been able
to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so realistic that they can live in them.”
– Daniel Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, 1961
Incurable explores how we choose to physically create and present ourselves based on internal ideals that we have acquired over time. The forming of these internal ideals is consistently influenced by peers, family members, and by the constant barrage of imagery that surrounds us each day. The advent of Photoshop, advances in plastic surgery, and the plethora of media has helped us to maintain a standard of physical perfection that is essentially unattainable, keeping us on a never-ending quest to achieve the physical manifestation of an unrealizable internal ideal.
The media I have chosen are significant to both the process and the meaning of the work. The characters are first formed in plasteline clay, which never dries. This allows me to continually manipulate features and forms, paralleling our bodies’ constant state of change over time and our attempts to cover up, reshape, and alter our appearances. Next, a picture is taken of the sculpture. Camera angle, lighting, and props set the framework of the final image, which will be digitally manipulated further. Conceptually my use of the photograph demonstrates the illusions a photo can create. The framing of the photograph leaves out information about the realities of the situation and freezes that moment in time, never to change, unlike the nondrying clay and our ever-changing bodies. It is the limitation of information in the frozen moments that make photography a powerful tool for seeing what we want to see or perhaps what we would rather not see. In my experience, most people seem aware of the photograph’s limitations to tell a thorough story, but want to believe in them anyway as evidence of existing life and evidence of possibilities.
By digitally layering photographs of human eyes, these characters are brought to life. The familiar, intimate experience of seeing (images projected from the eyes onto the brain for understanding) suggests that these characters contain a living, thinking body despite their unnatural appearances. The final step of my process is digitally coloring the image. The pallets are influence by the illustrations of children’s books - illustrations that first triggered our imaginations.
This combination of photographic and digital techniques, points to my belief that photographs function by walking the line between factual evidence and an imaginary world. This contradictory duality that is intrinsic to the photograph serves as the perfect stage for my characters to struggle with the contradictions that exist between an internal ideal and the physical manifestation of that ideal. The hope and belief at the core of my characters keeps their faith in the artistry and miracles of these devices to save them from their self-perceived imperfections. It is within this struggle that the characters find their humanity.
This work investigates how one can find one’s voice in this over stimulating world full of standards and ideas that tell us the right way to be. In my previous body of work, Incurable Perfection, the characters look to culture for guidance on how to create themselves. In Letting Go, the characters look within themselves for the answers of who they are, letting go of cultural standards and expectations. By taking a break from the chaos of daily life, they are able to connect with themselves through stillness and play; two ways to listen and discover one’s authentic self. The hope is that within these moments, the characters will let go of their expectations of how they should be, allowing space for their behaviors and appearances to reflect who they are.
At the core of cultural standards are the passionately followed and quietly, yet firmly, enforced rules of one’s assigned gender, often difficult let go. The male/female gender binary tells us how to walk, play, love, dress, speak, and feel. These rules are engrained in our being from birth and give us a guide through which to judge ourselves and others. This is problematic because it fosters shame and secrecy, limits self-expression and suppresses our inner intuitive voice. Instead of limiting themselves to the prescribed gender, my characters open up to a more authentic expression of self by exploring aspects of both masculine and feminine qualities. This exploration allows for more freedom of expression, creativity and individuality.
My characters are attempting to find a sacred space, a place of vulnerability, a place where they allow themselves to be really seen. By quieting one’s life, even momentarily, an opportunity is presented to learn truths about oneself. By engaging in private play, one is able to let go of expectations and rules. The result is a private and truthful moment that may be enjoyed without fear of judgment or consequence. In taking this step, they risk ridicule and judgment, but they also bet on happiness, creativity and change. The irony is that if you look at our greatest role models, inventions and significant historical moments of positive change, you will see an authentic expression at its core. Brené Brown, a researcher of vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame, has concluded from her research “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Yet we seemed to stay away from vulnerability and stay in the safety of dictated roles and rules because it is easier and safer. She continues with the thought “If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.”
If we can ask questions instead of judging, and look to our authentic voice rather than modeling ourselves after the prescribed standard, I believe we will open ourselves up for an exciting, harmonious life.
God Has Given You Minds is a collection of portraits of some of the women in the US Congress. They are clothed in suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s speech “Our Young Girls” 1872, and adorned by photos of documentation by Harris & Ewing of the suffrage movement protests in Washington DC 1917.
The speech is available in its entirety at http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/stanton-our-girls-speech-text/