Tuesday, February 14, 2012

One, One Thousand for February Explores Our Conceptualization of Human Identity

One, One Thousand, the online bimonthly magazine of Southern photography, gives us a twofer for early February, portfolios from two different photographers, both of whom are dealing with the depiction of identity.

Photography -- generally speaking -- functions in the aesthetic tradition of mirroring reality. The work here challenges traditions of conceptualizing identity, the one by showing us portraits of a humanoid mask rather than a human face, the other by inviting us to contemplate the faces of folks who live out the transcendence or confusion of traditional notions of gender identity, what it looks like to be male or female.

Athens, GA-based photographer Leslie Burns gives us Frank, a portfolio in which a mask, vaguely humanoid in design and originally intended to help people learn CPR, appears -- mostly but not always -- worn by someone in an otherwise relatively ordinary situation.

Drawing on the practice of another Southern photographer, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Burns notes that the mask can be disconcerting, even frightening, to the viewer, but she claims that the wearer of the mask, "through his or her body language, is able to communicate universal emotion." 

"Once the viewer gets over the initial shock of the disconcerting mask," Burns argues, "he or she can see that "Frank" feels the same emotional highs and lows that we all share." As a result, "the viewer is shaken free of any preconceptions and is able to recognize how similar we are, as beasts and as humans, so that we may bypass the prejudices we hold for the unknowns and appreciate each other on an immediately genuine level."

New Orleans-based photographer Eddie Lanieri takes another approach to the question of the Other, using a series of portraits of male transvestites -- mostly seen in the process of transforming from stereotypically male to stereotypically female appearances -- to remind us that gender is itself a kind of performance, with its costumes and its masks. 

Lanieri calls this portfolio Dressed as a Girl, the presumed origin of the acronym DRAG. She says that she tries in this work to "deconstruct the theater of gender impersonation by questioning the implications of gender perception and roles . . .  trying to encourage the conversation of what does being female mean; is it just an outward drama that we play out in front of other members of society or is it something other?"

The people in these images are performers in New Orleans; Lenieri notes that "the only time it is social acceptable for a man to wear makeup, jewelry and dresses when they are making objects of themselves for entertainment purposes. These entertainers are taking the most absurd forms of female and combing raunch for entertainment, which is very similar to the stripper culture."

Strong and challenging work, here, from Burns and Lanieri, in One, One Thousand, for the month of February. 

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