I have long been fascinated with Mexican photographers, muralist and filmmakers. They seem to share a certain perspective on the world that is unique to their country. Maybe it is an expression of deep cultural roots or possibly a reaction to traumas suffered over the last few hundred years. There is nothing like the destruction of multiple civilizations to change the way you perceive the world. Whatever it is I am drawn to the imagery of Mexico.
At various times I have obsessed about what sort of photographic ‘style’ I should adopt. What constitutes proper technique and the constraints of craft? The answer for me is to stop thinking in terms of limits. Everyone has unique vision. That is literally true because our visual perception is based in DNA and life experience. I can learn from others but I can only express what I see and feel. The same is true for the image makers of Mexico. Still there is something shared in their work.
For many years I have lived in multi-cultural Texas and New Mexico. There are rich experiences to be found in places where people of different backgrounds choose to live together. My roots are shallow in the new world unlike my wife’s family. They have lived in the place now known as Texas for hundreds of years while the flags changed over them. I am influenced by the cultures around me.
I can never see photographically in the way anyone else sees. Let alone the photographers of Mexico. My work may be informed by the work of others but it is unique to me. There is no other way.
This work is a composite made using a ten year old self portrait. It is radically different from ‘The Kiss’ published a few days ago which uses the same base image. Both fit well with my ideas for the original photograph, which was about exploring differences between public persona and private self. We all present a public face which may be very different from how they see ourselves when outside of public view. In this latest work the image is composited with repeating patterns of dots to suggest, at least in my mind, that we also have a digital persona.
Our online persona is not directly within our control. Moving through digital space, we leave traces that can be accumulated into a profile that is more real in a sense than any other public or private persona. It is a fingerprint that defines who we are for commercial purposes and increasingly to government agencies. The idea that we are being profiled using buying patterns and online remarks may be distasteful but it is a fact of life.
Those of us who lived in the pre-digital era often have a sense that privacy is being lost in the ‘new’ digital era. That may be true. It may be equally true that we could always be profiled by anyone who was willing to put forth sufficient effort. Interestingly, there is now a thriving market for individuals who possess skills to custom tailor online information. As digital profiles are increasing used to target us, we are finding ways to obfuscate our online presence.
The slapstick of Spy vs Spy is an amusing analogy for the digital game of privacy. It is the black hats and white hats endlessly dancing in a dark comedy. We live in a highly amplified technological world. There is a price to be paid for all those wonderful services and conveniences.
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I spotted this man walking around in front of the old Post Office in Luckenbach Texas a while back. He would stop from time to time to strike a pose for the rest of the tourists. It seemed amusing at the time, given that everyone in Luckenbach is projecting some sort of image. He fit right in. The crowd is always a diverse bunch, from well heeled wannabe bikers to outlaw country music enthusiasts and of course tourists.
The dime novel narrative surrounding my subject was already there, all I had to do was make it visible. The text is a combination of sentences I wrote myself and a paragraph from an actual dime novel, The Untamed by Max Brand, published around 1919. Max Brand is surely one of the great marketing names of the twentieth century. Of course given the context of his work it may well have been a reference to a permanent tattoo on a horse. No matter, it is a wonderful name for a western novelist.
The West we know from popular entertainment is a wild exaggeration of larger than life characters and their dastardly or heroic deeds. My subject personified many of those stereotypes at least in my mind. He made a turn of the century dime novel impression of rugged individualism with impeccable style cues.