Investigation Into Contemporary Identity

My studio practice of late has been focused on investigating the ownership and fluidity of contemporary identity. Identity being a hot topic in media and social media lately prompted me to investigate and find out exactly what it means to have one.

For a definition of identity, I read an essay by Dr Mandy Rudge featured in Conversations: Identity, she quotes “I do not think that identity belongs to the individual. Identity is like a jacket. People you will never see will make it and you wear it. Identity is something other than you, outside of you. It’s a question of perception. You can be aware of it, play with it, amplify it, or mask it for infinite reasons” (Ataman in Heartney 2008, p.262)

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My practice involves playing with and manipulating contemporary identity by making quick “conservative” judgements of people, condensing those judgements into one word and labelling them as such in an attempt to synthesize new “jackets” for them to wear that confront the viewer with very callous statements about somebody they do not know.


I have created a series of collages using scans from magazines and superimposing red derogatory words onto their faces using Adobe Photoshop to obscure their appearances, lending them a new identity based on the chosen words.

The photos of the people are greyscale to reference how the conservative view of the world is very black and white, the words are coloured red to demand attention and authority. The faces had to be covered to sever any emotional connection between the subject and the viewer, so the superimposed word would demand their respect.

I expect the viewer to feel conflicted because they are bringing their own relative perspective and ideals when establishing these identities but they are being told how to feel about them. I could imagine that the majority of people might disagree with these new identities but will still be influenced to some degree.

My work relates to that of Jeffrey Wolin, who provided his own commentary for his photographs by superimposing type into them to give the viewer another perspective on the subject.


This investigation has given me the tools to look at strangers with more objectivity than I once possessed and made me realise my own folly in judging people with insufficient evidence to do so. I hope this series can help others to do the same.

I think my series is successful in the way that it produces the reactions and emotions that I sought to achieve, in future I would like to shoot my own photographs and play more with the idea of superimposing words onto them. There might even be potential in this idea to do something with other digital media such as video and animation.


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