I have been living abroad for three years, lecturing and touring around Asia. Until recently, my home base was in Singapore (though now I live in Spain), which allowed me unfettered and cheap access to the region. I have encountered anti-American demonstrations in Jakarta, a dead man on a park bench in Hanoi, a typhoon on the top of Mt. Fuji, subversive mannequins in Tokyo, women in full burkas on jet skis in Langkawi, unearthly gastronomic delights in Melaka, red shirts in Bangkok, and the madness of Singapore’s Little India on a Sunday night. I’m an equal opportunity photographer, taking photos of every conceivable subject and genre; however, I am still mainly a photographer of simulacra. To that end, I plan on having a large show upon my return to the states, in conjunction with a coffee table book focusing on mannequins, dolls, and effigies from around the world.
An excerpt from my artist's statement:
"When you photograph the same mannequins through every season over a period of years, you begin to feel like Tom Hanks talking to his Wilson ball; that is, you can’t help naming them and even thinking of them as having a secret inner life. It’s this magical thinking that pulls me into the process of photographing them in the first place: somewhere in the mix, I have to temporarily invest the inanimate objects with sentience, like Pygmalion to Galatea. In many cases, it’s critical to get the line of sight correct so the subjects seem aware of the viewer’s presence; but it is a far more complex task to find that right angle that suggests wistful cogitation without the attendant flavor of voyeurism.
Over the course of this peculiar trajectory, I have been kicked out of stores or simply had irate proprietors wag their fingers at me. That’s because the clearest shots are in the actual display, where there is no glass barrier. However, much is to be said about them being unapproachable if not untouchable, like a saint’s holy remains contained in a reliquary. A window adds this dimension, and in the case of “beautiful” figures allows one to engage in a lucid, albeit detached type of cathexis. Yet here it is sometimes important to amplify the figure’s vanity as a counterweight. In the case of “ugly” figures, I have my work cut out for me: with no libidinal subtext, it’s more about revealing a tincture of the sublime. And this can only occur if one can ferret out an element of grace, perhaps even suffering, in the subject matter. The tools at one’s disposal are clear: composition, lighting, the angle, etc. But I tend to look for the telling details of mutability: damage, tears, chipped paint, layers of dust. In short, a palimpsest of staggered identities that have traveled through time in the same frame, like Cezanne’s landscapes that show signs of winter and spring on the same canvas. Sometimes this layering can be augmented by reflections in glass or packaging, though this poses different challenges altogether, for now one must consider the interposition of the outside world on the subject. So in many ways, even though I am no longer making abstract canvases through layers of exposures as I did when I first started playing with the camera, I am still applying the basic principles of time, mutability, and transparency.
Unfortunately, effigies are loaded with context, particularly in regards to consumerism. I see this as just another transparent layer to remove. A cursory review of any culture’s dolls, figurines, mannequins, and so forth will reveal its social mores and core values, as well as its overall economic well being. I would imagine mannequins in North Korea and Cuba, for instance, are used and re-used, much as they would be in any insular society. So not only are they recycling many of the same out-dated effigies, they are also possibly using them as polemics: dispassionate yet noble and designed to not excite the senses. Regardless, my interest is not in making political arguments or constructing personal narratives from scratch. Like a photojournalist, I am seeking some measure of truth in the trouvaille. For me to go into a shoot with a pre-conceived narrative would be tantamount to ransacking the reliquary."