I’m intrigued by how people transform themselves, and how others experience that transformation. And it seems to me such transformation involves as much a self-deception as it does any expression of faith. People think themselves capable of all sorts of acts that are not necessarily possible. Perhaps it’s because there is only so much that a person can experience in the immediacy of one’s existing body. It seems that any further awareness there is to gain must come through distortions to, and at the expense of, the regular public order of ourselves – so that to break out of yourself, you must be willing to break yourself.
My fascination with rituals has to do with that boundary between a secret realm and a secular one, how so many of us struggle compulsively to exist in a state that lies somewhere between the two. Bodies are painted, masks are worn, poses are assumed all to mimic or commune with our own perceptions of whatever it is that we are seeking. Often the communion is between the living and the dead, but not necessarily. We bind ourselves to others who share our beliefs and values by dressing, talking, working, eating, shopping, even having sex, how they do. And those outside of the group become something to defend against; a threat to our order, community, sorority, fraternity – our brotherhood. We create languages, dress codes and uniforms, secret handshakes, hidden rooms, cryptograms and symbols, all in our pursuit of belonging, and to affirm our beliefs.
My work is more often than not, very personal for me. It speaks to my own experience as well as to my views of this period in history. There is so much fear just below the surface right now. Some are more fascinated than afraid by the darkness closing around. In my photographs I’m responding to this alchemy of fear and fascination – a strange collision between sex-sells-commercialism and Thanatos. My process is slow and deliberate but also porous. I never know at the start of a session what or who my model will become. Creation is complex and dirty. The charge for me comes when the figure is complete, the result itself not unlike solving a puzzle or equation.
I’ve been fascinated by the macabre ever since I was a young boy. In Grade 8 I pulled a practical joke on my French immersion teacher at the small school I attended in rural Ontario. Miss M. was an outsider and a hard person to read, officious in manner but with a sly grin at unexpected moments. Her classroom was on the 5th Floor and the windows were older-style, opening outward and up, with faulty latches. One day when she stepped out of the room during a short recess, I opened the window wide and ran down the back stairwell leading outside. Then I laid myself out motionless on the ground beneath the window, splayed like a starfish, and waited to be discovered. I actually didn’t expect her shock – and certainly not her scream, which was piercing. In retrospect, I was surprised by her willingness to believe the ruse. To partially absolve my conscience I remember that I jumped up and yelled
“Its ok! I’m ok!
I landed right!”
And then I went back upstairs to accept my punishment and make the best of it.