• josutherstphotography

Final Major Project: Project Context

Image narratives are an important and necessary part of constructing our identity. Whether these narratives are internal or external, they allow us to define how we see ourselves and other people, and how they see us. “Fractured Identities” will focus on the narrative as a means of understanding the multiple parts to our identities.

The use of masks in photography is as old as the medium itself. Ralph Eugene Meatyard was fascinated with exploring the ordinariness of family life. He placed his friends and family in masks in various locations to combine the banal with the unusual to offer a new take on family portraits.

Figure 1: Meatyard. 1960. Untitled.

Like Meatyard, I intend to use masks to standardise and anonymise people. James Rhem quoted one of Meatyard’s participants, Mary Browning Johnson in his essay: “He said he felt like everyone was connected, and when you use the mask, you take away the differences.” (Zax 2011)

Marianne Hirsch supposed that in photography “the mask is a metaphor for the photograph’s power to conceal, for the frustrations of the photograph’s surface”. She goes on to say that the mask may also be seen as a “metaphor for the semiotic lenses or screens through which we read photographs, and through which the images themselves are constructed as objects of social meaning”. (Gane, 2018).

Figure 2: Ballen. 2014. Addict.

In response to this and to Ballen’s work (figure 2), I will consider how a mask conceals and covers our faces from view. On social media sites, we metaphorically wear a mask to present ourselves to the world in the way we want to be seen. In reality, we are using masks to hide what we think or feel. We disguise who we are, and we use masks to protect our true identities.

Sometimes the mask we wear online is make-up, in others it is the use of filters that enhance our faces.

Doy (2007) explains that in her short essay ‘Carnaval en Chambre’ 1926, Cahun considers the use of masks when interpreting issues surrounding identity and the self. She wrote about ‘the attraction of masks for those who do not want to live with their intentions clearly legible on their faces” (Doy 2007: 41). The hiding of our true selves behind masks could be considered as hiding our true intentions and emotions from others. We all do this. We use social media and other social networking sites as a tool to mask our identities. We only allow others to see what we want them to see.

Figure 3: Sherman. 1976. Untitled, Bus Riders Series

Taking inspiration from the early work of Cindy Sherman (figure 3), I will explore displaying my work in grids of 4 or more images. The images will be shot in sequences to facilitate this. The photographs will aim to emphasise the moment of being photographed. The participant will be asked to look towards the camera as they are carrying out various mundane activities. Instinctively, they will adopt some form of pose, and in that instant, construct an artificial self-image and identity.

Figure 4: Sutherst. 2018. Bin Day.

The mask highlights the mundane activity and location (figures 4 and 5), unravelling the viewer’s understanding of the images. The viewer is challenged to consider that our self-identity is an insecure arrangement between social expectations and personal intent. At the moment the shutter is pressed, the mask enables the viewer to examine the untruthfulness and artificial nature of the photograph.

Figure 5: Sutherst. 2018. Secateurs.


Figure 1: C-Monster. 2018. Ralph Eugene Meatyard | C-Monster. [online] Available at: http://c-monster.net/tag/ralph-eugene-meatyard/ [Accessed 11 Feb. 2018].

Figure 2: LFI – Leica Fotografie International, G. (2018). Roger Ballen | LFI News. [online] LFI. Available at: https://lfi-online.de/ceemes/en/news/muenchen-roger-ballen-1001505.html [Accessed 11 Feb. 2018].

Figure 3: Christies.com. 2018. Cindy Sherman (B. 1954), Untitled (Bus Rider Series). [online] Available at: http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/cindy-sherman-b-1954-untitled-bus-5437571-details.aspx [Accessed 11 Feb. 2018].

Figure 4: Sutherst. 2018. Bin Day.

Figure 5: Sutherst. 2018. Secateurs.

#FracturedIdentities #March2018

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