The Awkward Eye
November 5, 2011
Machine Project DMV After Dark fundraiser
As part of a DMV-themed party, the idea here was to take awkward, DMV-style portraits. A simple blue background mimicked the typical driver's license photo set-up. But the camera was positioned such that only a very narrow height range comfortably fit in frame -- tall people had to sort of squat down; those that were short were given a stool to stand on. Subjects were instructed to take off their glasses. There were numbers on the floor they were told to stand upon. The goal was elicit awkwardness and, through that, get the subjects to reveal themselves in a way, to get beyond the studied pose.
But this photobooth was somewhat of a failure on two accounts. First, the technical processing action was not well-conceived beforehand, so most photos had to be processed afterward (extending the time investment significantly). More importantly, though, in trying to elicit awkwardness, I actually managed to put most subjects at ease. Rather than getting a genuine, naked awkwardness, I mostly got an extremely posed variation.
However, conversely, the whole thing made me feel quite genuinely awkward. I am much more comfortable trying to make people look good than convincing them to let their guard down. The minor physical contortions I put them through was not enough on its own and I am not a skilled enough play-actor to do what it takes to truly discomfort someone in front of the camera -- except for those that already feel quite uncomfortable. And for them I feel too much empathy; I can't help but try to put them at ease. It all became more about testing my limits behind the camera than generating an image in front of it.
[For the photographs collected here, I've also stripped away the thematic drivers' license overlay I originally placed upon them. The bare images allow one to focus more on the subtleties of each subject.]