Like it or not, thanks to social media, most of us interact with friends and loved ones through photographs more than we do IRL. Likes and comments supplant friendly phone calls. Instagram stories replace postcards from far-flung locales. Disappearing nudes are the new love letters.
Photographer Matthew Morrocco wanted to explore the strange, and very 21st century, ways his artistic medium has infiltrated relationships. "Every person with an Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat has a new, layered responsibility to their social network: to represent them ethically; to share their image only with their consent; and, even, to make them look good," he said. "There is also the anxiety of hierarchy—who gets enshrined on your grid, and who becomes a part of your Instagram story? Who do you follow, like, or simply ignore?"
Throughout the past year, Morrocco pulled together a group of his closest artist friends with the goal of crafting their portraits while spending some quality time together. The result is a dreamy series of kaleidoscopic mirror selfies of Morrocco's nearest and dearest, often photobombed by the artist himself. It's a self-aware way of reframing the role of photography in his relationships, by transfiguring it from a communication tool into a collaborative project.
VICE caught up with the artist to talk about how the portraits were made and what he thinks about the vanity of our selfie-obsessed generation.
VICE: What was the impetus for this series?
Matthew Morrocco: I’ve been thinking about the way photography finds its way into our relationships. When you take a picture of your friend and post it to social media, it becomes a part of your friendship. You have new responsibility to your friends. You are helping them create a visual language around who they are whether that is consciously or subconsciously felt. It’s a thing artists have dealt with but only recently have we started to deal with it as a society.
How'd you choose your subjects? What dictates how and where they're posed?
I chose based on our relationships. I asked close friends and people I wanted to get to know better. I wasn’t very specific about who I was choosing. I mostly just asked people I like spending time with. I almost always had lunch with the person I was photographing, so we would spend the whole afternoon together. It was a way to really have a “moment” with the person rather than just “work.” They chose their own poses, I just asked them to sit in a specific place.
What role does reflection play in the series, literally and metaphorically?
Part of the idea for the images came from the Jorge Luis Borges short story "The Library of Babel," about an infinite library. In the story, it turns out that the library is lined with mirrors, which means it is actually finite and infinity is an illusion. I always thought this was an interesting metaphor for the internet. Perhaps it seems “infinite” in some ways, but human connection must also happen IRL, not just online. There are some limitations to the internet’s ability to shape humanity. The images are made by placing two mirrors opposite each other. Myself and the person I am photographing are in the middle. Placing two mirrors opposite each other creates the illusion of infinity—an infinite mirror.
What's the role of vanity in photography?
I think most people take photography and photographers for granted, and vanity is often considered negative. I think in many ways vanity, mirrors, and photography help people to create, play with, and better understand their own identity as distinct from other people. Which, in my opinion, when done well, helps all different kinds of people assert themselves more fully. Contemporary photography is great because it’s never been so easy or acceptable to be so vain, and vanity can bring self-respect when it is properly managed.
You often insert yourself into your photographs, exposing the photographic process but also documenting a little bit of yourself. Why?
It’s always been really important to me to assert myself as the artist in my work. It remains a major theme. Before the easily accessible phone photography and social media I am not sure it was well understood how much is at stake for photographers. When you are directly responsible for someone else’s image in such an intimate way it requires a high level of care and attentiveness. It is important to me that photographers step out from behind the camera and reveal themselves. Moving into the 21st century, photographers will increasingly shape the way people understand themselves and relate to one another.