This was another rewarding exercise for my New Media Studio grad program. I’ve never done a sustained series of self-portraits, and being challenged to do so caused me to ponder how to compose these perhaps in a critical and new way (at least for me).
We had been looking at a lot of “selfies” so I decided to take more “anti-selfie” approach: instead of up close, I would far away from the camera. Instead of relying on the gesture of a raised arm with a camera pointed back at me, I decided to use a remote shutter release with a cord. Instead of framing the environment to be about me and my dominance of it, I wanted my presence to instead be awkwardly inserted into environments where people were busy doing other things.
What I call “Intervention Selfies” was born.
This series reads almost as a “day in the life” narrative, and again resisting the Selfie Paradigm they are meant to be very plain and banal. This first one is the doorway of my program’s Administrative Assistant’s office. You can see the cord trailing back to the camera on the tripod – but this is theatre. This old style squeeze trigger does not work with digital cameras, but it was important to convey the intent of these works with this physical connection to the point of view of the device itself.
Many of my classes are in this room. This is the grad seminar class where we get together and work on our major research projects. They were all very understanding of what I was doing with this tripod and cord everywhere. Like an idiot, I absent mindedly stood on the table with my shoes while setting up!
I like the framing of my portrait by the projection screen and I like how I awkwardly have to lean in because the cord was too short.
I love the professor’s offices. They are all very different and unique – some are austere, some cluttered, some bright and some dark and soothing. In the spirit of this series, I am in the office of one of my favourite Professors, Dr. Alex Sévigny, while he is working on his computer. This is of course theatre but again I was so pleased how quickly and readily my idea was accepted. This photo was helped by friend and classmate Ryan Price, and at this moment I realized that this was really a series of collaborations. Both with subjects like Dr. Sévigny and skilled photographers like Ryan.
Now I started to steer into unwitting collaborator territory. My original (flash of) vision for this project was standing in the middle of a large crowd so I headed into the student centre to stand in the way of students and see what happens. Again, the cord is extremely important both compositionally and conceptually. We are standing in front a business with the cord stretched between me and the tripod. This person (bravely) heads through this relationship between me and the camera and over the cord barrier, waving her hand apologetically. What does this say about the universality of the ceremony of the selfie in public space?
This is one of my favourite ones in this series. We are still in the busy student centre and I am facing across the grain of traffic this time and not with it. The cord is really in the way and you can see a bit of this awkwardness and resentment from the person on the right. I like this one also because it would make little sense without the context of the rest of this series, so I feel like I took advantage of the research possibilities a series offers. It is a problematic selfie, even as a intervention – you can see my foot, forehead and the cord so is still a selfie?
This is me at the Michael Hardt lecture at McMaster. This a photoshop job, but only minimally – I ran up to that spot after the lecture and had my partner snap a photo of me. So that is me in that spot, but about one minute after Hardt finished speaking. It must of looked strange to see me, a large middle aged dude, run up and stand beside his jacket on personal effects (to the left of me), staring intently into the space I had just left. What I was curious about in composing this work is seeing the awkwardness of the crowd’s body language not seeing me at all. Their line of attention zooms past me on the right. If I had run up there in real time, then that dynamic would be different, even if only slightly.
Speaking of skilled photographers, I was lucky enough to have local Hamilton photographer Joanna St. Jaques help me with this shot. She taught me about loooong exposure and shooting at night. This was downtown near city hall – and was it ever COLD. I had to stay as still as I could for about 30 seconds for each shot and we did about seven or eight. I chose this one because I like the anti-selfie element of the street lights obscuring my face. Notice the person in the bus shelter? No idea who they were, but it was super important they were part of this photo series. Every photo in this series has other people in it – very important to the intervention selfie aesthetic. I photoshopped this one a bit.
My partner and I rolled out the spool of cable and set up the camera right in this aisle with grocery workers behind me and in plain site of the check out. I was curious to see if someone would say something as I am sure people take photos inside the store and they don’t care, but my still poses and use of the cable prop changes this act. Maybe we were too quick but none of the employees seemed to care that much. The shopper behind me certainly didn’t.
On that freezing night with Joanna, we asked a policeman in his car if it was alright if we took a photo of me in front of his car. He said “no” so I decided to try again this time but within my rights and not dependant on the whim of authority figures. A few days later Jen and I stood in front of the police station and quickly realized that cops don’t use the front door, but they did park everywhere. So we set up on the sidewalk and stayed there, forcing passers-by to adjust their path slightly to circumvent us. I think the cord garners respect. Maybe people think I am going to launch into a live news report and what I am holding is a microphone.
Ah, my favourite work from this series is an awkward selfie treating myself the same way I treated the other people in this series. This has a bit of photoshop to it but I did not try to hide it because this work is not about illusion or illustration. The door is in the exact right position and the lighting is the same so they go well together. I like the idea of a self-portrait of me in the basement of my house and me using that as study with a cord connecting this work to the viewer.
I made an 11th meta-selfie with some of the other selfies I did not use. It’s pretty funny – can you find all the me’s? Do you really want to?