Documentary projects from around the world

While I describe myself as a mixed media artist, I am fortunate to have been granted access to the world as a photographer. Having worked in over 50 countries observing, documenting, and learning about numerous cultures, photography has played a prominent role in developing how I view and think about humanity, culture, and technology. As a result, I gained an immense appreciation for the unique customs and undeniable beauty which abounds within ethnicity, race, and culture, but not without the tensions and stresses that weave through the fabric of each community.

My own family is bicultural- my wife is Puerto Rican, while I come from a North American European (or “white”) heritage. As we navigate our differences and commonalities, our relationship continues to instill in me a broader and deeper understanding of the world we live in. My home life complements and intensifies my reflections on my travels, and inevitably feeds my artistic practice.

Another topic I pursue considers how modern technology mediates our engagement with life, culture, art, and ultimately each other. Especially in recent years, we have experienced technology connecting us to each other and offering access to a broader world, while simultaneously detaching us from and limiting our experiences. Life is full of seemingly unavoidable contradictions such as these. This contradiction is particularly evident with photography, a medium that expands yet mediates our experience with nearly every aspect of society, filtering how we see the world around us. Yet undoubtedly, photography itself is filtered, being viewed predominately via screens on computers, tablets, and phones rather than printed photographs. What is gained? What is lost?

Rosa 2020
Huang 2020

My current series, Collective Individual: Glass Portraits, bridges these two topics of culture and technology. The cultural component is addressed by compositing portraits of multiple individuals who share the same collective ethnicity or nationality. These simultaneously present a portrait of a collective and an individual, while acknowledging the beauty and challenges that exist as an individual within a collective culture. Meanwhile, the technology and mediation are addressed by combining the two-dimensional medium of photography with the three-dimensional medium of glass, creating a work that is inseparably sculpture and photograph. This offers a unique experience when viewed in person versus online. The sculpture also speaks to the physics of light and the psychology of human perception. The glass rods focus and intensify the light, while fragmenting the photograph of the upside-down portrait. The glass sphere, the same size of the human eye, recreates the biological act of seeing and perceiving as it inverts the image right-side up. These ideas meet when considering how an individual perceives oneself within the collective.

Detail of glass eye, Anthony 2020

I prefer a hands-on approach and enjoy working with various skillsets. For this series, the process involves lighting and photographing individual portraits, digitally compositing and printing the images, preparing and cutting glass, building my glass rod support and frames, and compiling these components into the final piece. As such, the overall process for a single piece can take from months to several years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest challenge is finding the diversity of subjects, as each collective requires a set number of individuals from the same demographic.

In the studio
Ugomma (Nigera) next to Anthony (USA)

Currently, there are eight finished pieces, with three more nearly completed. In addition, I have already created over 150 portraits, but do not yet have enough from each demographic to merge them into collective individuals. Anthony, Collective Individual, is part of this series and included in the Portals and Portholes exhibit.

Ryann Cooley

To see more of my work:
Website www.ryanncooley.com
Instagram @ryann.cooley

Portals and Portholes includes works of art by 137 artists from 10 states and runs through Thursday, May 26, 2022.

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