The human figure has been a powerful subject in art throughout history and across all mediums. What is it about human nature that drives us to reproduce our own image, over and over again? How do we aim to portray ourselves and one another based on our experiences and the experiences of those close to us? Each artist has a process and drive that is unique to them specifically, so I sat down with Studio Gallery artist Kadeem Morris to learn more about his personal approach to the revered human figure.
Kadeem Morris joined Studio Gallery’s artist cooperative in June of this year, and has been making waves with his intercultural photographs. His art-making has been inspired by his identity as “the man that lives in the in-between.” Born in 1995, he jumps back and forth between identifying with millenials and Gen z. His life has also been spent half in Jamaica, and half in America, leading him to ask questions about identity and culture through his work. He uses photography to capture the dual natures of life. To name a few, the simplicity and quiet moments versus the ongoing movement; the similarities versus the differences of people from separate cultures, and the small events that shape who we are versus the big events…Kadeem strives to capture, in totality, the essence of people themselves.
I would love to learn more about how your self identification as “the man that lives in the in-between” comes into play when you make decisions about figure representation.
“My self identification as a man that lives in-between plays a role when I capture figures in my street photography. Many, if not most of my street photographs tend to focus on the gesture of the body or the action that is taking place, and the face is almost always unimportant. Either the viewer is watching the action from behind and the face isn't present, or the face is in some shadow and taken out of the focal point. I do this in my street photography, because I want the viewer to focus on the scene and the human form in that space. We can then attach any feeling or emotion to the scene and person, because it essentially becomes a blank canvas. The scene is there and by most accounts is represented accurately, but because the face is hidden from the form, the emotion we interpret the scene to have is the one we place in it; our feelings at the time of viewing.”
How does culture impact the way that you portray figures in your photographs?
“Culture tends to dictate what is acceptable and what is taboo, so in a way culture tries to take up a space in my mind that tells me what is okay for me to photograph, or what forms to find beautiful. So in that way I try to look for unconventional forms or figures, or look to other cultures and see the similarities and differences in forms of expression. In Jamaica, the female form is heavily commercialized, just as it is here in America. However, in Jamaica they tend to like larger female forms, whereas in America the female frame is more accepted if it's small. This stems from the fact that in Jamaica they see larger women as more able to provide and take of the family, as signs that they can cook, take care of themselves, etc. So what the examination really shows me is that every figurative representation does carry behind it a message, a leaning toward a certain cultural bias, maybe, and leads me to examine each time why it is that I am capturing a form in a certain way.”
What is one of your favorite figurative subjects and why? How did you represent them, and for what purpose?
“One of my favorite figurative subjects that I have captured is myself. In the image I captured of myself, I was able to capture exactly what it was I going for, because no was going to be more in tune with me than myself. The image is a self portrait, and it was for a zine that my friends and I were working on for a class project. It was called “The Brawlers,” and was supposed to be representative of us expressing our struggles in making it in the world, with school, and jobs, and everything else coming against us, we had to be resilient and fight back.”
Tell me more about your process. How do you choose who to photograph? If applicable, what locations do you enjoy photographing figures in & why?
“My process varies depending on what I'm trying to photograph. When it comes to street photography, I try to capture a moment unfolding, or a scene that could bring back memory within ourselves. That is why I try to hide the face or to not make it the focal point of the image: so that we can look at it, and depending on how we are feeling the mood changes, because we are dynamic and our feelings can change the interpretation of any moment. That is what I learned from being in the in-between: that all our moments, all our shared experiences, won't be felt the same. Whether it’s because of our differences in cultures, or generations, or personal emotions. That many times I struggle to find concrete answers veering between two opposing emotions.”
Con’t/ On Portraiture
“When it comes to portraiture, however, it is almost the complete opposite, I tend to almost always focus on the face exclusively, I try to capture what the emotion is that the person is feeling. So that when the viewer looks at the image, that is the emotion they feel as well. I want my portraits to be intimate and closed off, so that it is almost like a conversation between you and the subject. That is why my portraits tend to almost always be close-ups of the face, so that you can stare the subject in the eye, and in a sense connect to the emotions that they were conveying.”
From staff contributor Halley Stubis.