Seeking human interaction during the COVID-19 lockdown, I launched a participatory portrait project, online, by contacting far-flung friends who, as in a game of telephone, told another friend (a stranger to me) who emailed me a selfie. Studio-bound, I then had their picture made into a lifelike 3D printed mask by a local artist.
The magic of the project—and its real connectivity—came when I Zoom-called the original subject—also in isolation— who was now wearing their mask, and took their portrait through the screen. Relying on the application’s interface, I am visible, top-right, in every portrait, thus sharing space with those I could not otherwise physically be with.
Participants also submitted a written response to the universal question: “What has living through a pandemic revealed to you about yourself?” The answer to this question is then paired with the subject’s portrait.
Surmounting the restraints of Covid, my intention was to make a series of pictures that captured this unique time in history. Like the experience of pandemic itself, the mask wearers appear slightly surreal and out of focus, as in Covid-19 meets the Uncanny Valley. The portraits are not meant to repel but to entice viewers to stop and consider the circumstances under which the photographs were made. The answers to the question, “What has living through a pandemic revealed to you about yourself” were varied, honest, distinctive and universally relatable.
Seeking connection during the darkest days of 2020, a letter arrived from an unknown collector in Germany, asking if I would send a small image of my work back to him. His reaching out triggered the idea for Vis-à-vis. The project’s layers of technology (email, selfies, Zoom, 3D printing) mirror the shifting layers and truths operating in my prior series such as Still Lovers, Fandomania, Empire Falling, and Sublime: L.A. River, and was the driving force behind my creativity during the pandemic.