“smile you’re on camera” (2019) wet collodion on mirror.
Smile, You’re on Camera is a project that investigates the evolving culture of portrait photography and the entanglements between advertisement and photographic culture. Richard Beard, Britain's first commercially-licensed portrait photographer (1841), instructed his customers—for whom photography was novel and quite literally magic—to say “prunes” during the exposure of their picture. This historical anecdote became the catalyst for this body of work. In America and England of the Victorian era, a toothy smile (cheesing) was associated with the lower-class, the mentally disabled, and children.
The behemoth Eastman Kodak Company had a vested interest in educating America’s first photographic generation and establishing itself as the leading authority in photography. Portrayed in their advertisements, training manuals, and trade journals were people smiling joyously, excluding the possibility of anything but affirmation of a photographic practice that is fun, easy, and essential for any occasion. The experience of the photographed subject, and practice of photography, was successfully pre-constructed and packaged. And popular photography became an elusive extension of advertising culture.
Why do we repeat the words of food products when facing a camera? Underlying humor and play resonate in the art work, as does a healthy dose of absurdity. I enjoy thinking about these customs as bizarre traditions that are perpetuated when alternatives are absent. I want to celebrate the weirdness of the culture while taking a long distant look. Aware of my own ambivalence sometimes I too make selfies, repeat “cheese” under my breath during a group picture, and share only those images of my best life on the internet. Kodak taught me well. Today, as convincing as ever, the spirit of Kodak continues to echo its mantras from the early days of modern photography.