(Beginning Photography, Digital Photography, Photojournalism, Videography, Graphics)
If fictionalizing a presidential candidate for photographic purposes is fascist, then this work is populist.
Let me explain: much of my previous work revolved around photographs of fictional characters. This work, such as the presidential campaign of the fictional John Hubbard, addressed social concerns of mass media and ease of manipulation of an audience within the photographic medium. The pretenses were thick, the message and agenda were clear, and the work was esoteric in its intricacies to the point of being elitist.
Here there are fewer pretenses and this new work is more straightforward; instead of a specific message or agenda, the work in this series is more visceral and happenstance, lacking a distinct motive. The work is visually accessible through both image and text, the illustrations have a nostalgic feel, and the motives, though personal on my part, are much less distinct and direct.
These images were born out of an impulse to construct new work quickly back in 2009. The earliest images were short vignettes that told of quirky characters in odd places and circumstances. The pieces addressed loss, longing, happiness, oddness, and eccentricity.
When collected into book form, the sequencing of the images and arrangement into a text-then-image format gave the work the feeling of a booklet that would accompany a compact disc. After several people began to comment on which pieces were their favorites, I fell into the role of a composer, creating images to be consumed by an audience, rather than speak a specific message.
Sketches II and Our Father (not yet complete) continue that trend of pairing images with text with escalated emotional content. These new works focus on uncertainty, opposition, control, and the future.
As with most of my photography, this work is highly referential to image making of the past. The visual elements are taken from educational and informative filmstrips, lending a formative air to the work. Pairing each image with texts reinforces the memetic aspect of the work; images and text are paired all of the time within the Internet and photographic communities. Often, an image makes no sense when not coupled with words.
This work recalls the work of Richard Prince, Sherry Levine, or other artists that consider themselves “rephotographers.” The characters are familiar stereotypes, but here, repurposing them as characters in a new narrative makes them my own. Tom Allen, an artist that working in a similar manner, told me, “those images were pretty much made to be reused.”
The ambiguous, authorless aspects of my previous work have been abandoned – for the time being – for this work that is much more personal and self-reflective. Passing this work along in the form of books or gallery presentations broadens my personal notions of authorship and what it means to attach a distinct name to a work. In the past, that name was a fictional one, and my role was reduced to that of a collaborator or curator.
Now, the fiction exists only in the stories about these vague yet familiar characters.
Michael Sell has lectured at conferences in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest on topics ranging from his art practice to Internet memes. His research includes investigations of memetics, the digital/analog aesthetic, and media-centric constructed imagery.