A WORD ABOUT IDENTITY
IDENTITY is an ongoing project I’ve been working on for about a year. As a wedding and portrait photographer in St. Louis, and also as a musician that is constantly either on stage or helping other musicians in some way, I get to see a lot of people on a daily basis. Often there’s a camera between us. I take a lot of portraits every week, and usually the people in those portraits have a lasting impact on my life in a way that maybe they’re not even aware.
The vast majority of the people I photograph are people I’ve either known for some time, are friends of people I know, or become my friend as a result of working together. I’ve realized something odd about being their photographer. I know, at least on some basic level, what was happening in that subject’s life when I took that portrait. The picture, for me, conjures that specific instance in my mind when I pressed the shutter. That same thing is true for the subject of that portrait. They can see the portrait and know what they were thinking at that moment. They also probably have some idea of where I was in my life at that moment.
When someone else sees a portrait of the face of someone they know, they’re not transported to the exact time and place that portrait was created (assuming they weren’t there). Instead, they are flooded with memories they have of that person outside of that moment. They’re reminded, in some kind of metaphysical tangential way, of a different person; same face, albeit an older or a younger version… but not the version of them that existed in that instant. They recall extraneous memories involving that person in the portrait.
By getting rid of the face and photographing formal portraits of the backs of heads, I’m able to retain some of the personal nature of the interaction with the person. I can let other people see the portrait, yet only the subject and I really know what’s on the other side. If I put the front of their heads up (which most sane people call the FACE), you would most likely recognize a few of those people… if not, there’s a good chance you could throw the image into Google Search and find them, or definitely on Facebook where someone would eventually say “Oh yeah… that’s XXXXX!”
We associate so much of our understanding and attach so many emotions to the sight of a human face (especially one we know personally, or are familiar with… celebrities, famous photographs, etc.), that we tend to fix those ideas in place and lose sight of the constant metamorphoses we all undergo. It’s easy to forget that the person we’re looking at is not even necessarily the same person they were the last time we saw them, even though their face is more or less identical. Who knows what kind of life-changing experience they’ve undergone since our last meeting?
Aside from all the deep thought mumbo-jumbo, I also just really like the aesthetics of the photos. I know that sounds a little weird, but there’s something about a formal portrait taken from behind that is disarming. It’s simultaneously beautiful, and a little creepy. It is still a person, and the lighting is still good, and the image is still sharp, but the lack of eyes to focus on is jarring. I also chose a very plain background for the shots because I think it not only highlights the person in a visual way, but it creates a sense of gazing at someone whose face you can’t see who is gazing at something you can’t see.
In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he’s had the pleasure to know…