We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
-Paul Laurence Dunbar
My work explores the relationship of the Self to the Self. We learn who we are from the experiences we have in the world, learning about likes and loves, values and desires, and we start to build this idea of Self. When we interact with others, we also learn from them about what is good and what is bad. Our experiences filter through our inaccurate perceptions and the expectations we strive to fulfill, leading to a Self that contains some truth, but also some elements that we hide: we don’t admit them, even to ourselves.
This series uses the nude form and mask as symbols of this, exploring the ways in which we alternatively hide and reveal aspects of ourselves. The mask hides those things about us we can’t admit to, while the figure suggests the desire to be seen for who we are. And so we see the revelation and concealment in the pose, the shape and direction of the body and face, and the direction of the mask: always facing the camera and preventing the viewer from completely connecting or understanding.
I processed this series to create the impression that the image is contained beneath a surface and partially obscured by its imperfections, further building on the idea that understanding is only ever imperfect. I photographed in deliberate homage to Pictorialist portraitists and how they understood a photographic image as something beyond mere mechanical reproduction. It also serves to create a sense of historical connection: our inability to understand the Self is not a twenty-first century phenomenon.
Through this collection, I invite you to consider the ways in which you have hidden parts of yourself, and to begin the process of revealing, instead – not only to others, but also to yourself.