“Slippage is everywhere, from the formation of our identities, to the architecture of our culture and subcultures.” Mark Rappolt, “Doppelgangers,” in Look Up and Stay in Touch, Slater Bradley and Ed Lachman
Globalism, as an international economic and political movement, is made possible through technological advancements in travel and communications, shrinking the world’s geography and minimizing cultural differences. One result is an increased awareness of the randomness of distinct cultural differences—in terms of race, gender, and age—and the social laws governing individual identity. Incessantly projected and perceived onscreen, the self is becoming increasingly fluid and fractured. Photography, experiencing its own shifts in behavior and identity through digital advancements of the past few decades, mirrors and abets globalism’s leveling hand by both documenting specific peoples and places and submitting them to the great charnel house of the internet, where context and image integrity are continually obliterated.
Visions of the natural world reveal landscapes of dislocation: Katrín Elvarsdóttir’s photographs of abandoned, variously striped trailers sit unhitched and unkempt in the woods; the dark, driving current curving around a mountainous landscape in Adam Katseff’s River series is rendered in a near-monochrome palette that erases geographic and temporal identity; John Goto references and manipulates art historical imagery to create the alluring, then alarming, incongruity of a Classical pastoral setting into which human destruction and violence are introduced.
The signifiers of identity—sartorial and otherwise—are increasingly undefined and realigned, due both to shifting global demographics and broader understanding and acceptance of gender fluidity. Discerning which is the bride and which the groom in Drew Tal’s Arranged Marriage is at best difficult, but also potentially irrelevant to envisioning pathways to shared love and happiness. While Erwin Olaf and Mickalene Thomas garb their subjects in traditionally masculine and feminine clothing, their presentation and affect belies convention. Olaf’s Troy leans at the window, waiting, at home; while Thomas’ Portrait of Qusuquzah, presents a glamorous female figure posed with majestic solidity on a domestic throne. When positioned in the unknown of the outside world, the figures featured in works by Viviane Sassen, Youssef Nabil, Ruud van Empel, and others appear unmoored, even dreamlike. Navigating fantastical worlds of heightened or manipulated light and color, distinctions between the real, the imagined, and virtual begin to disappear.
In the digital age, portraiture is projection. Connecting and communicating around the clock, we create and share multiple identities online, and seek affirmation onscreen. Transcending the limitations of location, time, and status, social media allows unprecedented access to the lives of others, nurturing an illusion of intimacy that may impact the perception and experience of individual selfhood. Slater Bradley’s Doppelganger series explores the relationship between celebrity, fan, and the fracturing of identity. Co-produced by Bradley and cinematographer Ed Lachman, Look Up and Stay In Touch reimagines the final film that starred River Phoenix, who is played here by Ben Brock, an actor whose resemblance to Bradley renders him a doppelganger (an uncanny double) for both the artist and the deceased celebrities—Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, and River Phoenix—he portrays in Bradley’s films and photos. Bradley’s complex identification with Phoenix as both subject and symbol enacts the fracturing of identity under the influence of the technoculture: At a time when blogs and social media allow us seemingly unlimited access to the personal lives of celebrities, how do we mourn their loss? How do we separate or integrate?
The fluid and fractured imagery of contemporary lens-based art illuminates the quest to envision who and where we may find ourselves to be when once-familiar coordinates of geographic, social, and psychological identity are subsumed in a mutable future.
Curated by Alice Gray Stites and Kevin Moore