Each year HCP sponsors a non-competitive educational outreach program called Collaborations. Now in its seventh year, Collaborations VII is a celebration of photography which encourages collaboration and teamwork amongst Houston-area high school students. Students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds are invited to participate in collectively planning and executing an exhibition of their own photographs.
This year’s theme focused on creating self-portraits. Portraiture has a long history both in art and photography, and within the past few years, self-portraiture has become an ongoing art performance within the MySpace/Facebook phenomena. Social networking websites have popularized such common snaps as arm’s length perspective cell phone captures of best friends, nights out, come hither stares, and monumental travels, as well as the ordinary occasions of daily life. Digital photography has facilitated the possibilities of instant gratification, so now people can simultaneously be in a moment and sharing their photograph internationally through their online networks. These images become a shared visual diary, and much like the snapshots in the family albums of earlier times, they have meaning to the individuals depicted, but rarely hold the interest of others.
For six months Collaboration VII participants were challenged to go beyond the superficial “MySpace/Facebook” style of self-portraiture to photographically investigate themselves and their lives. Some participants focused on the psychological, exploring their feelings, fears, and desires to create images of their interior states. Yesenia Chavez sought to understand and represent her attempts to conquer her fear of heights; Alex Chavez explored a traumatic experience, whereas Lauren Januhowski delved into her sense of herself as physically and emotionally crippled. Javier Macias described the process of making self portraits as “the doubling of myself” which allowed him to examine his fear of transitioning from the familiarity of his school into adulthood. Insightfully, Macias found a sense of increasing confidence appearing in his photographs.
Other collaborators like Adrienne Duncan, Thora Ansell, and Alex Walker turned their focus to the physical by photographing their bodies. First thing each morning Caroline Brimberry photographed her face, searching for the self that exists before fully waking. “The fog between my dreams and reality,” she says, “proved to be the perfect time for me to capture myself in my most natural and unguarded state…a real, unfalsified depiction of myself.”
Some approached the project through their environment – the space they live in and the world around them. Investigating daily activities, both Bobbie Richardson and Jody Lu‘s work illustrate the repetition and ritual in daily life. Magaley Deleon and Maria Morfin looked at themselves in the school setting within which they spend the majority of their days. Rachel Walker and Alex Liso both explored landscape as a metaphor for self. Walker “felt this was the best way to let my personality show through, without being shadowed by the chaos of our material world.”
The idea of memory and reflection occur in the work of Kayla Stewart and Ellen Phillips who attempt to trace the origins of their current selves through past experiences. Alex Goss and Amanda Hafemiester use mirrors as actual reflection; one capturing repetition, the other capturing a moment. “My photographs are a reaction to occurrences and observations I feel are important to my life. Memory is vital … and photography is how I hold on to things,” says Goss.
Portraits of Self is a reflection of twenty teenagers on themselves and their place in the world.