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To be witnessed and to witness others has been a powerful dynamic in my life as an artist and as a human being, presenting an opportunity to be seen, to see myself and to see others, at times in new or changing ways. I have always been drawn to images, whether still or moving, that allow that moment of vision to be recorded. When I first experienced Bill Viola’s “Transfigurations” and some of his other work , I was moved by the visual rendition of a transformation which had occurred due to a person’s inner recognition of an experience or an emotion. I set out to create a series of portraits that allows the sitter to be seen as they engage with me in an interactive process that might reveal an aspect of self that is less posed or guarded, an emotional experience not often thought of, or a memory resurfaced. This process consists of a series of questions or reflections put to each individual as well as suggestions as to how they might allow whatever thoughts or feelings that arise to live in them for a moment. My intent is to capture that experience and make it visible.
Following the session, and my printing of an image, that image is given to each participant, with a request that they live with it for awhile and reflect upon it, writing down what they see when looking at themselves. Their words are then added to their image. Each person photographed to this point has shown great courage in allowing themselves to be seen, and the experience has became a journey of unexpected moments for both myself and my photographic subjects. In combining the sitter’s words, along with their image, the process of witnessing continues as others view and perhaps find common experience in the portraits.
As poet Carolyn Forché writes in an article on the poetry of witness, from Poetry Magazine in 2011, “Language incises the page, wounding it with testimonial presence, and the reader is marked by encounter with that presence. Witness begets witness.”