Three large boxes sit in my hallway, unopened. Inside there are a total of twenty framed photographs, returned to me in the boxes from a gallery in Chicago. My Out of Town series was displayed this past January with two other female artists, one of whom – Dawn Diamantopoulos – is a friend from art school days and organized the show, and local artist Lee Heinsen-Ligocki rounding out the triad. Titled Decompression, each artist created our works outside of our various careers or roles, to relax and escape into our art; escape from the world by submerging ourselves in our passions.
Out of Town grew from several different paths I was pursuing in early 2009. On January 1, I started a self-portrait-a-day exercise; it’s a great way to be mindful of practicing photographing/artmaking daily, and teach yourself to push beyond the perfunctory shot and really, truly see. I was also on my first “tour” of photographing professionally at auto shows, and everything was so new – like anyone whose camera is an extension of their arm, there was that strong compulsion to document everything I faced along the way.
January 2009, I found myself in a stark, empty downtown Detroit, -10* outside, in a hotel that had just opened two weeks earlier. Still new to the client’s team, I was as yet a bit of an outsider and had a lot of free time to myself outside of my freelance duties. As I sat in my huge room watching Law & Order on tv, bored out of my skull, and not satisfied with the half-hearted self-portrait I had already taken to fulfill the daily series, my mind started to wander. Most likely, I was the first person to ever stay in this hotel room. And what do people do in hotel rooms? Sleep, eat, work, have sex, watch Law & Order – then my mind wandered to the macabre. Sometimes things go wrong in hotel rooms. Sometimes people get dead in hotel rooms. Wouldn’t it be funny if… and I started laughing to myself. Wouldn’t it be funny if I took pictures of myself as if I were dead in this perfectly staged room? So I pulled out my dSLR and did it. Staged several “murder scenes.” No blood, no gore, just snippets of “What’s going on there?”
As I traveled to other cities after Detroit, I eagerly anticipated entering every new pristine, orderly hotel room. Every room contained new possibilities, not always for my fake deaths, but observing the staging, sitting where I’m not supposed to be, inserting myself in the perfectly placed pillows, or catching compositions out of the corner of my eye reflected in mirrors. I was studying Francesca Woodman’s* self portraits fairly intensely and sometimes even wrote notes to her as I meditated on her sense of space and placement of self within it.
And so in January 2012, three years after embarking on a journey of self-portraits and auto shows, twenty of these photographs amazingly ended up in a university gallery in Chicago. What next? Keep pushing? End the series? Are they getting repetitive or stupid? I don’t know. What I do know is that the next time I arrive in another hotel room, it’s inevitable that I will sit, relax, watch tv, and suddenly jump up laughing to myself, set the timer on my camera, and run in front of it until I get a shot that makes my inner Edward Gorey well pleased.
* Note: The Guggenheim Museum in New York City will feature an exhibit of Francesca Woodman‘s work March 16-June 13, 2012.