Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

The Identity Project

Posted in art, photography by Jason Gray on July 11, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The subject of personal identity in human beings has never before been raised on such a universal level as it is in today’s world. “Identity” is a person’s brand; it is the singular tool, which expresses both self-promotion and self-reflection. In sheer availability, the scope of that expression is larger and further reaching than ever. With internet sites like Myspace, Facebook, Linked-In, WordPress, etcetera, we are encouraged to indulge in self-obsession, and led to believe that, the more we do it, the closer we get to the truths of our being. However, the public and the private nature of the effort are inherently dichotomous, and therefore, the concept of self-reflection and personal betterment as advertised in the collective consciousness of these sites is essentially ephemeral (or strictly mis-advertisement). Nonetheless, we want to connect and we want people to know that we are here, and those goals are easier to achieve in the public spotlight than true self-awareness, so the system is perpetuated.

This definition does not exactly express what “identity” is, however; it only places a parameter around what it has come to mean. As a whole, Americans deny what is real, preferring to embrace illusions instead. This is because it is more convenient to appear conversant than it is to truly be. Cultivating an “identity” as a means of promoting what one does or makes is essentially a side-affect of a capitalized market, wherein success is measured by standing out. However, when we base what we know about ourselves only upon what we want others to see, like the afore-mentioned internet sites enable us to do, then we risk losing what makes us people in the first place. We become products instead.

The nature of my project is to go beyond the definition that identity is the individual’s greatest commodity, and to look for what makes each person unique, if anything. One half of my investigation deals with personal identity, and in this series, each individual is photographed in a neutral environment twice, once clothed and once unclothed. In the clothed pictures, each person is an ambassador for who they want known, while in the unclothed pictures, this control is removed of them; each person is given a white sheet, the constant for the experiment, with which they are enabled to formulate an instinctive interaction. This interaction represents an expression of who they really are, somewhat like seeing a billboard stripped of its advertisements, its true identity exposed. All of the individuals are unpaid volunteers, and their poses have not been coerced in any way. The other half of my study is devoted to the identity that is attached to the individual by outsiders. It consists entirely of portraits of six men, relative in age and all wearing a white, oxford dress shirt, who each represent a different ethnicity; one white, one black, one Latin-American, one Middle-Eastern, one Indian, and one south-east Asian. These portraits were then taken around to different points in the city where strangers were then surveyed about the trust-worthiness of those pictured. With nothing to base their opinions upon but ethnicity, the results make an interesting statement on racial stereotypes, acculturation, and of course, identity.

Examples of the work follow:

From personal identity segment:

From perceived identity segment:

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