Portraits x Environment (ongoing)

A striking feature of Robert Frank’s photography in The Americans is his arresting compositions: they make it clear that Frank has no interest in clearly (and artificially) distinguishing the person and the environment—the way traditional portraiture or photojournalism would treat the world, with a “subject” (typically a person or group of people) conveniently placed over or inside a “background”. In Frank’s images, body parts are routinely cut off by the edge of the frame, while inanimate objects (for instance pipes in the ceiling) take center stage in the composition: photography is fully accepted as a process of carving images from the world taken as a whole, with no former assumptions regarding what or who is eligible to be a “subject” in the frame.

My current portrait work tries manifesting, and through double exposures even adding, intimate ties between a person and an environment, which is now partly theirs and partly hybridized. The process is artificial, but it somehow mimics a central paradox of human life: our relationship to our environment is based in part on serendipity—perhaps we found a job in a different city and moved there, choosing a neighborhood because a colleague recommended it; or we were accepted at a specific college and moved into an apartment that happened to be available at the time we started looking for one; or maybe we walk on this particular street every day because it is the fastest way to the train station, etc. And yet, perhaps thanks to the organic work of time, essential bonds are created as we contribute to the design of our environment, and in turn are slowly affected by its outlook and physicality.

With the whole roll of film passed twice in the camera, the double-exposures presented here first play the card of serendipity, fusing the environments of the person in the frame with that of the photographer, creating an indissoluble meeting point and common ground on the surface of the film; the editing phase (understood here in the old-fashioned way of choosing and organizing pictures) singles out those frames where the meeting feels more essential than chance would allow, following the structuralist premise that there is no chance in a world of meaning.