Skin: Reflections on Portraiture in Nature

Portraits and representations of brown and queer bodies are the base to my investigation. Oregon Canes Monument, Oregon and Palm Springs, CA function as investigations into portraiture of the self and of my partner, respectively.

There is the national park and the off-road desert. Second, the studio lit backdrop. Then exists the form: the self and the nude. The locations I pick are at least one of these three things: past indigenous lands, gentrified neighborhoods, or public recreational/national parks with low accessibility to low-income communities. I follow up with images to help describe the location. I do not use other human bodies unless directly connected to the trip there and the person I’m photographing. I include tools which are prominently used in the area to characterize some of the actions which take place.

While reflecting on the fetishization and demoralization of communities of color and indigeneity throughout art history, such as in Paul Gauguin’s paintings of Polynesian women as well as in sculpture as shown by Sam Durant’s Scaffold (2012) I was hit with a realization that there’s been an image of fetish, disrespect, and demoralization perpetuated around brown bodies galvinized throughout art history as it is analyzed today-they are to be gazed and walked upon.

The pleasure of the nude is for the subjects themselves. Here, each lays claim to their expression and absorb energies of the locations from which brown and black communities have been ousted and removed from. Each visit to a national park, reserve, gentrified town, dried up lake, torn down apartment complex, burial ground, is a pilgrimage to reconnect.

However, these voyages alone cannot bring resolution. My goal is to make the audience question their view of the othered bodies and as well as examine the disparity between the audience and subject through their relationship to land, history, and growth.

I originally chose to the setting to be “out in nature” because I wanted to question the tradition of nature being a place outside of the urban landscape. However, the more I go visit these sites the more I find out that they really aren’t ever going to be untouched again. Even my own hand, as it clicks the camera shutter, is a sign that this isn’t pure nature but simply a location for humans to composite. This is when I decided to bring in the seamless.

As the ultimate representation of a photography studio, its purpose is to be still and pure but yet disrupt. It is the destruction of the pure in order to create the seamlessly still, unliving and objective.

I have been looking at Paul Mpagi Sepuya and Leonard Suryajaya’s work. Sepuya inspires me through technical skills and his visual explorations of queer and black identities. He also upholds his work’s theoretical components. The work exceeds trickery and portraiture that would otherwise limit his work to politically inclined criticism. His manipulation of the photographic frame allows for bodies to interact with one another and the space around them; they become a collage that exudes the conversation between queer networks (pl.).

Suryajaya’s queer aesthetics calls for laughs and randomness while talking about the deconstruction of photographic tropes.

Just as in Fried’s essay about Objecthood and Theatricality, I will be using the characteristics of the medium in order to break it down. The objecthood of the subjects is reflected from the audience, testing their notions of photography and the compositing pre and post production of the image. The suppressed will rise, while the suppressors gaze and ponder about the other†.


San Diego, CA