Matthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew MorroccoMatthew Morrocco ...
In his layered images (both metaphorically and compositionally) Morrocco explores the concept of self-representation in a remarkable, extremely personal way. With a keen knowledge of art history, in his latest series Mirror Portraits Morrocco creates complex “dual self-portraits”, in which he stages a dialogue between himself and a close acquaintance set in a maze of multiple reflective surfaces, where the boundaries between artist and subject is disruptively blurred and entangled. We caught up with the artist to talk about photography, voyeurism and visual literacy in the age of social media. Here’s our Q&A: When did you first get interested in photography? I started using a camera seriously in 2009 when I was studying Chinese language in Beijing. I went to a popular marketplace called Wangfujing where I found a twin lens reflex camera that I bought for $20. I wasn’t sure if it worked but I wandered around Beijing taking pictures with it and actually ended up using that camera for most of my early work, Complicit. I chose photography as my main medium because it was the easiest way to explore content that excited me. It has become so essential to the way people communicate these days.
I feel that your work, both Complicit and this new series, Mirror Portraits, are also about photography as a medium. Is that so? Yes, but I was also looking at a larger canon of art history. Visual communication and image literacy are an essential part of how I make photographs. Looking back through time there are certain moments when representational artists brought themselves into their work – Valasquez’s Las Meninas, Courbet’s Studio of a Painter, even Michaelangelo is rumored to have put a self portrait in the Sistine Chapel. Throughout history, there are certain moments of self-reflexivity which demonstrate how artists viewed themselves. I believe we are in an important moment in photography when people are seriously considering the role of photographers. I started using mirrors in my earlier work, Complicit, early in 2012, when I learned that mirror technology evolved to a commercially viable standard in 1837, two years before the Daguerreotype became available for commercial use. Lately, mirrors have become really popular in photography and I set about making Mirror Portraits in a very deliberate way to contribute to a contemporary modality of image making which places authorship and the artist’s responsibility to their subject at its center.
Do you think all photographers are voyeurs, in one way or another? No, I think that most people have the wrong impression of what photographers do. Photographs are not just viewing scenes and taking away trophies. Although, in some ways that is true, what’s more real is that photographers instigate or intuit a scene before it happens, they are implicated and part of the content of their work. They’re often not just a part of the action but often the whole reason for the action. Especially now, when so many artists have retreated to the studio.
Portraiture is always an exchange between artist and subject, but in your case not only you often end up in the picture but your subjects often actively participate in the process. How did you develop this concept? I’ve always been very present in my work. It is an essential theme. I’ve always believed that it is important for photographers to assert themselves as part of their work seriously. Before phone cameras, very few people understood what is at stake when you make a picture of someone and make it public. Yet I also wanted to emphasize that people who sit for portraits are responsible for their own appearance. I’ve often thought of my work as a cross between Rineke Dijkstra and Nan Goldin’s work.
How do you develop the concepts behind a long term project? My process is very fluid. I am lucky that looking at art, going to the movies, reading, and keeping up with news gets to be a part of my research process. My projects are almost exclusively long term and are therefore constantly developing. I rarely set out with a clear trajectory, things evolve and interact like separate organisms. My past work informs my new work, but also looks different. I view my work like a large ecosystem, all the pieces interact naturally and form a fully functioning ideology that will progress and change like nature.
Are your images constructed and planned or do you let the chance have an important role when you shoot? Mirror Portraits has a clear structure, there are two mirrors opposite each other, the subject and I stand in between them. My earlier pictures were mostly created on the spot, with some exceptions. I want to make pictures that feel honest and my ultimate goal in taking pictures it to create space for people to share themselves. Usually, I work with a specific structure and then let the subject do whatever they want inside that.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable taking a picture? I am always nervous to make photographs. It’s scary, there’s a lot of responsibility but I don’t usually feel uncomfortable. I think it’s really important to push oneself into difficult and complicated territory, but the last thing I want to feel is like I’m insulting someone or invading their personal space unnecessarily.
Is there a political undercurrent in your work? Not exactly. I am gay, and to most people this means everything I do is essentially political. To some degree that’s true but my work has always dealt almost exclusively with history, aesthetics, and communication rather than politics directly.
How did social media in your opinion change the relationship of viewers with the photographic image and with the image they have of themselves? And what about your relationship with photography and your self-image? I believe that with social media, we are experiencing a new kind of visual literacy in which images are becoming an essential way that people communicate. The language and complexity of representational image making has exploded and people are making amazing new pictures that reference things as far back as the Venus of Willendorf. It’s stunning to experience such a profound interest in art history. If anything, I think people are able to understand their personal experiences as related to a visual past that is as important as written history.
What emerging photographers you admire? What about masters – do you have any? Sara Cwynar is one of my favorite young photographers. Other artists I like are Rineke Dijkstra and Deana Lawson.
What do you think the future of photography might look like? I think it will be codified like written language. For example, a visual dictionary in which gestures, colors, or other such visual cues are organized with specific visual definitions. Perhaps it will be something like Chinese language which evolved from drawn pictures. Language is ever evolving and a dictionary helps to make language more clear and understandable. It’s hard to imagine, but visual language will need structure if it’s going to evolve as a form of communication.