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Self: an audience of one.

November 2, 2009

During my last year as a photography student at Columbia College in Chicago, I began a project that explored the idea that first and foremost, we are our own audience. The project sprang from a reading I had come across discussing the concept of the “male gaze” seen often in classical nudes of women. In this experiment, I asked brave friends to shed it all in a completely enclosed studio and explore their own reaction to an implied “gaze”. I set up the lights, the camera, and a stool and left my subject with the cable release in hand. I asked each subject to take pictures of themselves imagining a variety of audiences on the other side of the camera/image. I invited them to consider how they might pose or look differently if an old lover were the audience or a current neighbor, a complete stranger or the closest friend.


The result was incredibly interesting to me and did a lot to prove my theory that we are always our own audience. To some extent, this is simply a part of the self-awareness that comes with maturity. However, my current interest in this lies in the space where this self-consciousness actually contradicts itself entirely.

My lovely friend Tara and I have been conducting similar experiment on our tours at the MCA in the past month. At the root of our experiments (which involve a breaching experiment on her part and a dance party on mine…I know you’re shocked) we goad students into painting verbal pictures of themselves (i.e.: “Oh yeah, I would totally get up and dance right now!”) and then immediately put that to the test (i.e.: “Alright, then let’s dance.”) and watch as their self-consciousnesses do battle.

To me, this examination is particularly relevant in this moment of hyper-social-networking ego. It seem we are always thinking about ways to define ourselves to other people on screen, crafting slick 140 character quips, tweeting what we eat, posting photos and videos with hopes of a coveted reblog, etc. And yet this persona exists entirely outside of ourselves. It is rarely put to the test (i.e: “Alright, then let’s dance.”) and in that, it is safe.  It is also a bit dangerous in that, the more we get used to the idea that everyone cares what we are doing and saying and eating at every moment, the more we worry about how we “look”.

What I am finding about this experiment is that, at it’s heart, it is challenging these two contemporary consciousnesses to do battle. 99% of the time, this experiment exists in the safe zone of at replies, comments, clicks, and reblogs. In fact, it is built entirely on the platform. It is anonymous and voyeuristic, and that has it’s benefits. But ultimately, it seeks to tap into the other side as well. It asks people to take a risk and ignore that audience of one saying “You can’t do that, think how you’ll look.” and instead say, “Let’s dance.”

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