Smile, You’re on Camera investigates the evolving practice of portrait photography and the entanglements between advertisement and photographic culture. Richard Beard, Britain's first commercially-licensed portrait photographer (1841), instructed his customers 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 in public was considered vulgar and associated with groups possessing the least cultural capital: the lower-class, the mentally disabled, and children.
Eastman Kodak Company—a behemoth of modern photography—invented the first affordable handheld camera. Consequently, the company became a leading authority in photography, effectively educating the first generation of amateur photographers in America. 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. Popular photography in its infancy becomes an extension of advertising culture; embedded in the practice are strategies for selling products, desirable lifestyles, and consumer happiness.
Why do we speak the words of food products when facing a camera? Underlying humor and play resonate in the art work, as does a reflection of absurdity. Beneath the lighter veneer of the work is an ominous undercurrent, evoking a dystopian fantasy. Photographers reflexively operate as directors, perpetuating cultural codes and framing a desired behavior from their subjects. My work provides alternatives and subversions to the popular visual culture that disrupts the expectation and understanding we have of art photography, portraiture, and advertisement. 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.