Gold Winner

Uncanny Portraits

Photographer

Jason Ward

Category

Fine Art Photography - Portrait

Company

Uncanny Portraits

Submission Group

Amateur

Year

2023

Country / Region

United States

When a graduate professor showed my classmates and I a presentation on portraiture, I decided that I had zero interest in ever making flattering photographs. So, instead of emulating her examples of perfectly lit and heavily airbrushed subjects, I endeavored to make a highly unflattering portrait. I styled my subject in orthodontic headgear, and the ill-fitting clothing of a gawky teenager. I posed her uncomfortably and directed her to smile self-consciously. In post-production, I accentuated her blemishes rather than airbrushing her skin. Rather than being appalled, my instructor saw something in my satirization of fine-art portraiture and encouraged me to run with it.



This series has evolved from that one initial photograph to include a cast of characters, each with a comprehensive backstory extending beyond the frame. I study the inadvertent humor of awkward prom pictures, self-conscious corporate headshots, and cheesy stock photography, looking for visual tools for expressing the absurdities of personal identity. I often reference recognizable personas, to anchor the viewer in the comfort that comes from familiarity. Then I strive to subvert their assumptions through nonsensical juxtapositions delivered in a deadpan style.



We are living through an age of avatar identities, polarized divisions, and paranoid conspiracies. People are rejecting science, and the United States is on the brink of a civil war. While many images in this series are a response to specific current cultural trends, the series as a whole has come to function as an absurdist reaction to the proliferation of the irrational ideas that define our times. In a visual culture bombarding us with stimulus, I find these absurd portraits to be an apt way of discussing the forces flattening images and warping identities.

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