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Spotlight

Spotlight STOREFRONT PORTRAIT STUDIO The waypoints of our lives are marked by portraits: births, christenings, mitzvahs, graduations, engagements, weddings; annual holiday portraits when the family is together and annual school photo day. Studio portraits provided through the 20th century a ritualised sense-making of the life course and of family relations. The pictures lining the walls of our homes are shaped by a vernacular visual aesthetic that at once seeks to describe the subject as a unique individual while affirming the normalcy of the path of their lives. Brooklyn photographer Caroll Taveras has found a way to turn the idea of studio portraiture on its head while at the same time recognising and celebrating a romantic notion of the storefront photo studio as a valuable asset to a local community. For six weeks earlier this year Taveras opened a small studio on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn between Third and Fourth Avenues, in a space formerly occupied by a Domino’s Pizza outlet. The studio was open six days a week and charged $5 for a sitting, for which the sitter walked away with a 4x5 Polaroid. Taveras made other 4x5 pictures during the sitting as well, and the resulting images (for which the sitters signed releases) along with the interactive studio “installation” comprise a project that describes not necessarily ritual punctuation in the lives of the sitters, but a larger portrait of Brooklyn in 2009. Over this period, Taveras made around 200 portraits of both neighbourhood

residents who noticed (or were beckoned into) her shop and area artists who found out about her project through word of mouth and blogs. On her busiest day, a Saturday on which she made 40 portraits, sitters waited up to an hour for their turn. It took some time for the local community’s curiosity to bring them through the door (“A lot of people didn’t believe that I was really going to take their picture, or that it was really $5. They thought I was some kind of fortune teller”). But when locals started coming in, Taveras found herself hearing fascinating stories: about the couple whose apartment had burned recently and who wanted to memorialise the smoke-infused clothes on their backs that they had been wearing for weeks; from the woman who worked for an HIV support group that needed a picture for her newsletter; of the family of four that had always wanted but never had sat for a family portrait, and who ended up being her final customers. Her pictures are simple and straightforward, photographed at a close distance with a large format camera. Every detail of the subjects’ faces is revealed, lit to dispel any shadows. The backgrounds are even and the overall effect is of the sitter appearing very exposed. Taveras cites Disfarmer, Chambí and August Sander as influences. Avedon’s portraits from the American West also come to mind, as does some of the work of Stefan Ruiz (who also sat for Taveras). These pictures do not look like your old school photos; there is 7

Issue 26  

Issue 26: Control

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