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[hyphen] Americans

Keliy Anderson-Staley
Year Grant Awarded 2010

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State > AR Zip Code > 72801
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The title of the this series of wet plate collodion tintype portraits alludes to the hyphenated character of American identities (Irish-American, African-American, etc.), while only emphasizing the shared American identity. Although the heritage of each individual might be inferred from assumptions we make about features and costumes, the viewer is encouraged to suspend the kind of thinking that would traditionally assist in decoding these images in the context of American identity politics.

Like the photographers of the 1850s, I use hand-poured chemistry that I mix myself according to original recipes, period brass lenses, and wooden view cameras to expose positive images directly onto blackened aluminum and glass. The nineteenth-century collodion process was frequently used for “scientific” ethnographic studies of the human face, many of which were based in racist assumptions about physiognomy. The project draws attention to the fact that images of ourselves exist within a history of images. Our identities are linked to the visual history of social difference, a history in which photography has not always played an innocent role. In using this process, I aim to reexamine photography’s central role in defining difference.

Each portrait is photographed from a similar angle and distance, making it part of a systematic study and a “collection” of images, but the individual images resist the cataloguing tendency of such a collection. A large part of my practice includes the involvement of my subjects in the creation of the images that represent them. Each resulting image is a revealing portrait of an individual, but one in which the common human denominator comes to the foreground.