Throughout my time at Concordia, my studies in Art History have served as a way to both inform and inspire the work I do in my studio practice. In particular, I have always been fascinated with the tradition of portraiture in painting and photography, and its intimate relationship with ideas of performativity in gender and sexual identity. Through costume, setting, and body language, the subject of a portrait is capable of visually embodying a kind of mysterious and indescribable energy, one that is able to speak to the viewer’s own experience of gender and sexuality. Also, portraiture is intrinsically tied to the world of mythology and religion. Oftentimes, the subject of a portrait is cast in the role of a particular figure from a myth, religion, or history, communicated through a visual allegory of objects and symbols.
In my ongoing portraiture project, From Oz, my aim is to explore the crossroads between performativity, gender and sexual identity, and the world of mythology through the medium of photography. Shot on 35mm film, I am working with subjects who identify as gender non-binary, each installment focusing on one particular character from mythology. In this first installment, the subject, Paige (they/them), is fashioned in the role of Narcissus. A central aspect of the process of creating these photographs is a creative collaboration between myself and the subject. I constructed a set for the photographs, inspired by the myth of Narcissus itself, using found objects. Next, I asked the subject to step into the set I created, inhabiting and embodying the role of the character. From here, the process of creating the images became dynamic and energetic: as they physically navigated the set, a new story began to emerge before me.
At first glance, the tragic story of Narcissus seems to be a simple moralizing tale about the dangers of vanity. Through the creation of these photos, however, I aimed to reinterpret the story as a transformative means of introspection, self discovery, and rebirth. As opposed to a damning punishment imposed upon Narcissus by the gods, to me, staring deeply into oneself and discovering something truly unique and beautiful emerges as a powerful allegory for the experience of queer gender and sexual identity. The infinite, perpetual nature of Narcissus’ reflection speaks to the constant process of self examination experienced by many queer people, which is sometimes painful, but is also simultaneously full of joy.
Matt Sanderson, He / Him.
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