We currently live in a world saturated with images, made shareable and readily accessible through multiple virtual platforms, at all times of the day. I became fully aware of the scope and reach of this image sharing culture upon joining Instagram. Soon I was scrolling, liking and sharing hundreds of images daily, remaining only for a brief second on each one, before moving on. Instagram felt like a conveyor belt for images on their way to an infinite photo archive waiting to be utilized. This vast amount of images flooding my feed made me question whether or not I wanted to continue adding to the Internet's vast photo archive in the traditional sense or could I somehow re-purpose these images to generate new work?

For Composite Portraits the initial desire was to create a new photographic portrait made from many small fragments (i.e. an eyeball, a wrinkle, an Adam's apple, etc.) that were cut from existing photographs of people found with the help of Google Images. I was interested to see if I could create a convincing depiction of a living person that would engage viewers in the same way a traditional photographic portrait could - and do so without picking up a camera. Using Photoshop, each borrowed fragment was shaped and adjusted in order to 'fit' the new portrait and in that way played a similar role to that of a brush stroke in a painting. The “passport-style” pose was chosen for two reasons. The first of which being that the majority of photographs of people found on the Internet are “face-on” which provides a more extensive archive of photos to work from. The second reason is that this style of pose – in my opinion - has become the most common photographic pose whose main purpose is to allow the subject's appearance and characteristics to remain the focus of the work.
 
Thomas Ruff's series 'Portraits' famously made use of the “face-on” pose which played an influential role at the outset of my project. His stripped down, minimal portraits reinforced photography's limitations as a medium which could only capture the superficial. Composite Portraits go a step further by replacing the living sitter altogether. At a relatively close distance the viewer might accept the subject as real but upon closer inspection realizes that the subject is constructed. This confrontation with the contrived challenges the viewer to question ideas of truth and objectivity in photography. Although there have always been means to enhance, stage or otherwise edit what was seen in a photo (i.e. crop, manipulate setting, superimpose items), until a generation ago, one could safety assume that the photograph they were looking at was of something ‘real.’ However, with the arrival of computer technology and the use of photography as an accepted form of art making, people have become aware of the possibilities for manipulation. This body of work extends this challenge by not even ‘taking a photograph’ at all, but by taking from photography to create something new. 

Joe2

Ashley2

All images © 2010-2021 Joel Stevenett