This Photographer Reverse-Searches His Body Parts on Google to Make 'Melfies'
Melbourne photographer Jackson Eaton is inverting our idea of selfies.
People follow Jackson Eaton's photos online with the same intensity they usually devote to HBO serial dramas. His images let you in on the most intimate moments in his life—you about learn his relationships, meet everybody close to him, and track the development of his facial hair. OK, I know that sounds boring, but it really isn't. In his latest project, Melfies 2, he reverse-searches his body parts on Google Images and works the results into collage. It's less immediate fodder for those obsessed with his life, but it's just as close of a look inside his head.
VICE: So when did you decide to use Google in this way?
Jackson Eaton: Google image searching is something I've always been fascinated by as a potential tool for making artwork. Obviously the first thing you do is drag an image of yourself in there to see what comes up. This year I started my master's in fine art at Monash [a university in Melbourne] and was looking at self-portraiture in a contemporary context; I'd already done that project Melfies 1. Melfies 2 was just one of those ideas that came about.
Have you ever encountered copyright issues where someone's been like, "Hey, that's my face"?
No. I mean my level of reach probably doesn't warrant that, but maybe if I'm Richard Prince and printing out giant pictures of people's Instagrams and putting it in the Gagosian, then I'll have an issue.
Beyond selfies, what are you trying to explore with the project?
Obviously, part of it is looking at this phenomenon and how the images we post online are supposedly some way of communicating our individual experience. But what happens is those forms become really repetitive—the same kinds of selfies pop up. I wanted to explore that failure to present our individuality.
I remember seeing your earlier work and feeling like I was looking into somebody's personal diary—it was very intimate. These photos are a lot less diaristic—did you intentionally take a break from documenting your personal life?
It's not that I took a break from it, it's just a different direction. I do sort of talk about the personal here. It almost thwarts the attempts to actually expose our personal lives, which is what we think about when we think about people using Instagram. It's a sort of window into their lives but you're looking at how constructed that is.
Would you ever take this work to a gallery or is it something you think should just exist online?
It's a question I'm wrestling with at the moment. I want Instagram to be the primary form of presentation of this work, to reinsert the work into that same form which it critiques or mocks. But if the opportunity comes up I will think about how to adapt that work for a different context.
Have you ever had to pull yourself back from posting things because it allowed your internet persona to collide with your in-real-life self too closely?
Of course, those are the kinds of questions that we ask ourselves all the time, and that stuff resonates with me. There are lots of questions about expanded presentation context and how we think about our true selves or natural/biological self. That's a part of the Melfies, that kind of masking of the natural body and my identity and such.
Jackson was interviewed by Emma Do. Follow her on Twitter.