Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Interpreting Brooklyn

I am fascinated by the impact photography has on how we communicate to one another and ultimately how photography shapes our sense of our place in society. I rarely find opportunities for projects that intersect with my own interest as a photographer. As an artist, I am fascinated by the failings of people to project perfection and happiness for the camera. I have explored this idea by playing with the codes of conventional studio portraiture and by empowering school kids to create their own portraits.

I had lived in Brooklyn for less than 3 years when I saw the call from the Brooklyn Historical Society about a special grant, Interpreting Brooklyn. The premise of the grant is that a small group of artists, writers, and performers will research the BHS collection and interpret what they find inspiring into new original art. The subject of portraiture, the inextricable history of portraiture and the evolution of photography are very significant themes in my work. Delighted to have found such an interesting initiative intersect with subjects that influence my art, I visited BHS for the first time and did some research. Since receiving the grant, I have spent many days looking through some of the 30,000 photographs in the photography and portrait archive at the Historical Society.

I did not find what I had imagined. I was anxious to identify little variations in portraiture in the many distinct and vibrant cultures that have resided in Brooklyn. Would the family portraits of Russian Jews be unique from their Irish, or African American neighbors? The photographic portraits I uncovered were beautiful and intriguing but with hardly an exception, the subjects were upperclass caucasian families.

This is mostly a matter of history and not of intent. The society was founded in 1863 as the Long Island Historical Society by families in Brooklyn Heights. The origins of the BHS collection were these families’ artifacts; art, manuscripts, papers and photographs.

I did uncover some wonderful photographs: Images that left me titillated, introspective and excited about the medium of photography and its reciprocal relationship with American social life, aesthetics, and imagery. Some of these photographs I hope to include in this blog. However, my experience viewing these photographs extended beyond the rectangle of any one beautifully made tintype or the embossed border of a faded and mysterious portrait.

I viewed so many disparate images that had served distinct and varied purposes in society. I began to consider the official public portrait of banker, a child's communion photograph, the wedding portrait of an unlikely couple all to be a component of the larger entity of the collection.

Ultimately, I decided to make work about what I _didn’t_ find in the collection, or who I didn’t find. By doing so I hope to expand the portrait collection at BHS by helping to reflect in images, the diversity of the people Brooklyn.

The portraits I intend to take of anyone and everyone who is a Brooklyn resident will be the first portraits in the BHS collection that were made with the exclusive intention of being part of the archive. I will be collecting information about each resident in effort to not simply record their likeness, but to give each image a context, a bit of a story to be re-discovered by future patrons and researchers at BHS.





1 comment:

kelly rio said...

Hey, today was amazing. For a first day, it seemed that there was already a huge range of people who were ready to become part of Brooklyn history. I feel honored to be welcomed into such a wonderful community through this project.