Yesterday, as I was walking home from class I walked upon two little old ladies standing in front of the Urban Outfitters store window on Mill Avenue, staring in. One of the ladies had a stern expression upon her face, a look of disgust almost, as she made a shoo away motion with her hand and attempted to walk away hoping her friend would follow. Her friend, did not follow rather continued to look, her face appeared intrigued, somewhat taken aback. Little did these ladies know the product of their dismay, was created by the very person observing them from afar. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to use the Urban Outfitter’s window space, “Urban Gallery” to exhibit my work for the entire month of April. I put up eight of my photographs from my Letters from Stephen series and I couldn’t be more inspired by the outcome.
In a class discussion yesterday, we were discussing the difference between my work and the exclaimed work of David Levinthal, who too photographs toys. Levinthal’s work spans over a broad degree of issues, he doesn’t just focus on soldiers. He has done series on Barbie, the wild west, space, sports, and everyday set-ups. He carefully sets up scenes with his vast collection of realistic miniature toys and uses a large format camera to skew the perspective and scale.
Void in his work, is a stance or any emotional or personal connections between the toys and the artist. Unlike me, he is not in his work. Though I may look at the faux-violent scenes photographed in his I.E.D. Afghanistan series and see a negative message about consumerism and society, anybody else not thinking about those issues, wouldn’t pull that conclusion from the images. My teacher asked me, If I thought my own work took a definite political stance, (pro-war or against-war) or is it strictly personal? How do these aspect affect my success? and then, from a kid in my class, Do I really think my work is sellable?
The reaction from the lady looking at my work in Urban Outfitters, was not the first negative reaction I have witnessed. Last year, when I had my show at Chryo Arts, an ex-Marine walked by my image, stopped in front of “I Like it Here. I Love It Here. I finally Found a Home” and clearly picked up on the sarcastic, brainwashed tone of the photograph. He hastily stormed away, not daring to view the rest of the series. I see the political tone in my work, it is intended, but it is not definite. I don’t look at my work and see a pro or against. They are too personal for that. Any sense of dislike or lack of support, is sobered by the realism of the situation. I am interested in all of these layers, the initial anti-military assumption, the idea that these toys are functioning in more then just a innocent way rather they are molding who we are, and then lastly, the more pressing issue, that I am scared of losing my brother in a turbulent and dangerous time of war.
The kid in my class who asked me about the sell- ability of my work , sparked a heated debate about why we create work as artist. Are we creating to sell? or are we creating for ourselves, to inform? I hope people know me well enough to know the answer to this debate, but I will give you my response anyways. I don’t expect to see my photograph of a decapitated plastic blue toy hanging upside down from a palm tree, in anybodies house anytime soon. But this isn’t the type of art you display in your house. This is the type of art that is set to inform, spark conversations, make you pause, and forces you to think. I am unconcerned with reception, with the desire to sell. For me, having my work in the window on Mill, and seeing two ladies who might normally not ever have had a conversation over art, stop and look and discuss and REACT, is more then enough. It’s everything.