Interview with Andrew Campbell

In Interview on December 15, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Andrew Campbell’s statement about his piece Lovers of the Criminal Type followed by a brief interview about the work.

Interviewed by Bethany

“In the late 1800’s Francis Galton, a British anthropologist and founding eugenicist, set out to document the criminal archetype.  Two popular beliefs provided the support for his investigation.  First, it was held that the chemical and mechanical nature of the camera could reveal some objective truth that remained unattainable or un-reproducible to the subjective human eye. Captivated with the prospect of recording objective truth, Galton employed the photograph as the mode of his investigation.  Next, the fashionable interest in phrenology and physiognomy provided Galton with a language for reading a person’s nature and ethic, as it seemed to be written on their bodies and in their features.

Galton would use multiple individuals from the group or type he wished to define, and composite photographs of them.  Each layer of the composite would use the eyes as registration marks and from there meld multiple faces together.  The idiosyncratic features of the individuals would fade while their common features would solidify, thus, in Galton’s eyes, revealing the photographic truth of an archetype.  His practice was enacted on the bodies of common criminals, hysterics, and racial minorities.  The proposed discovery of these types would provide a service to the population of Galton’s time, supplying them with the tools to instantly identify unwelcome or threatening persons.

Francis Galton kept the focus of his investigations firmly fixed on marginalized: the disenfranchised, the pathologized, and the othered.  His efforts to delineate these types reduced each mass to a single body and keep it at arms length. Galton’s endeavors inevitably failed given the extent to which physiological study of the time was steeped with aesthetic and cultural biases.  The use of the camera did little to reveal anything of the nature of its subjects, but did plenty to uncover the motivations of those behind it.  Galton’s gesture was a hollow one; it was an attempt to maintain otherness on ultimately superficial standards.  This mode of marginalization is often repeated and always regretted.”

B: There are many studies attempting to prove or disprove our ability to have a “gay-dar”. Some are based on finger size, hair whirls, left-handedness, etc. We as a culture seem to still be looking for ways to identify “others” at a glance. Do you see your work as more a commentary on past or present archetype-ing ?

A: I find past issues of archetypes fascinating and entertaining, but i am way more interested in discussing present issues of othering.  The fact that Galton’s attempts to document archetypes failed is pivotal to my position; I am referencing his work because it failed.  in using Galton’s mode of production, I like to think that i am calling upon or hastening the failure of contemporary attempts to ‘other’ populations.

B: “Passing” is a big issue when it comes to sex, gender and sexual orientation. In one of the studies that I looked at the researcher attempted to remove all cultural signifiers from their subjects (i.e. facial hair, tattoos, piercings, etc.). It was thought they wanted to be able to identify gay men who did not want to be identified. Is it important to you that the subjects in your photographs attempt to pass or not pass? Or are you trying to capture them in their “natural” states?

A: I’m not sure, but i think i read the same study – or at least a report on the same study.  What i found interesting about the way the researchers handled the subjects is that the researchers are the ones who found it imperative to remove the subjects’ social signifiers.  I know they were attempting to create a more stable control group, but i imagine the act of photo-shopping out all these gay men’s haircuts, mustaches, ear rings, and tattoos.  Its like pushing ‘passing’ onto unwitting photos, but the gay men were still identified.  as if the photos refused to ‘pass.’ “you can photo-shop my frosted tips and lip gloss, but I’m still gay, damn it!”  Also, WTF?! only gay men? Why is it so important to uncover male desire at a glance and not female? Is a gay man so much more threatening than a lesbian that we need to instantly know if one is in the room?  Back to the question you actually asked:  Passing or not passing has not directly entered this work yet, but it will; i have plans for issues of gender transgression.  the subject of this first set are all couples, that was my main concern: that i find people who share a life together.  Because this set of portraits is geared to a hetero-normative audience, i wanted to call on the queer issue that is most discussed within the hetero-normative world: gay marriage.  I guess for ease of recognizability it is important that the couples not pass as straight. but to be honest passing, or even the amount of queer signifiers on a person (haircuts, tattoos, jewelry, etc.) was never on my mind while shooting the couples. i was more interested in just physically putting their faces together, getting their eyes to match up, a lot of technical and style concerns.  it was also really important to me that the images ended up looking beautiful – when you start adding facial features to people the results can get real monstrous real quick.  I didn’t want any possibility of misunderstanding.  i wanted to make sure that anyone who saw my picture could in no way think i was damning or condemning my subjects.  And i think i succeeded in this, i find the ways each couples eyes line up very beautiful very romantic.

B: How do you see this work continuing in the future?

A:First off i am going to continue to collect couples, but I want to expand the project by focusing on different body parts and drawing from different studies.  this will start to engage more populations into the discussion of othering that i am invested in.  One of the most relevant concerns that has been posed to me was from Lacey Jane Roberts, she stated that in exclusively depicting queer couples i am excluding the rest of the queer population from consideration.  The use of couples was never intended to be a limiting factor in my work, just an easily recognizable political signpost.  Coincidentally, Roberts’ concerns came up around the same time that started working on sketches for other body parts that i am interested in compositing, and other terms that i want to impose on them.  For example the next group of images i am going to produce are titled (for now) “The Throats of the Transgressive.”  these studies will composite images of anyone who actively engages in defying gender binaries, shot only for their lips to their collarbones.  i also want to figure out something to do with hands, and i should probably start shooting hair whorls also – the funny thing about that is so many of the gay men i know shave their head, maybe i should only shoot the bald ones.

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