Wednesday, January 9, 2008

constructed identities

when i first saw the photos in Alix Smith's series Constructed Identities, the images felt very familiar to me. then i realized that they reminded me of the photos i see every week in the New York Times real estate section (which i of course read religiously on sundays as part of my conflicted worship in the church of NYC capitalism). okay, okay, Smith's photographs are much more formal, less digital, less journalistic, and less gay than the Times'. but actually, the project helped me see those sunday real estate portraits for what they are: documents of class, visual convention, privilege and striving.

and that, in a way, is the point. Smith's project is about the visual portrayal of identity, social roles, and environment. with the subjects' hands together, ankles crossed, and backs straight, she uses the visual cues of formal portraiture to poke at social conformity. in her interesting project statement, she points out that "Historically, traditional portraiture’s function was to illustrate the subject’s wealth, class, status, and profession." as the similar images accumulate, the viewer stops seeing each one as an individual example of singular importance and status, but begins to question the genre. or at least, that's the idea, and i think it works.

she says: "Through repetition I am taking the aura away from the portrait as a precious object, as well as dismantling the uniqueness of the individual, and controlling the reception of their legacy. One image can be interchanged with the next, and the individual becomes one of many. The subjects function like objects in a still life, in a beautifully designed interior, in order to represent the idea of social conformity."

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