PRACTICE AND PROGNOSIS
PRE-CONDITIONS AND TREATMENT
Body Imaging, triggered by the observation that only doctors and photographers are privileged to look at people from a close-up distance usually only allowed for lovers, morphs a doctor’s office with a photo studio. There have been seven iterations of the piece to date: one each in Manhattan, Shanghai, Las Vegas, Budapest and Yangon, Myanmar as well as two in Brooklyn.
In New York City, the installation was held in an abandoned health clinic on the Lower East Side. The Shanghai space was significantly different, more an art gallery/storefront combination. In DUMBO and Photoville (both in Brooklyn), the work was staged in an 8” x 20” shipping container/foto pod. The longest installation—a month-long in duration–was in the P3 Studio on the 3rd floor of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas, The one in Budapest took place at the Central University of Europe’s School of Public Policy in conjunction with its annual conference. The most recent in Myanmar was staged in Pansuriya, a gallery/restaurant in downtown Yangon.
I set up an environment where patients/participants can have a “medical” experience that isn’t at all anxiety provoking. I create a waiting room environment that’s a place to hang out and meet people, fostering (however brief) a sense of community. Most importantly, the installation becomes a safe place where patients/participants deal with notions of identity, memory, and personal history in a non-judgmental, serious yet lighthearted way. Or they can just come in and get their photo taken for fun.
People who choose to be involved enjoy the individual attention and the collaborative process; they decide what they want shot and share in the selecting/editing of the final photo. During the photo shoots, I often hear
confidential histories and stories (which I protect in my own HIPAA sort of way). Body Imaging provides a unique opportunity to make photographs of special, often secret places entrusted to me by people with all types of bodies
and allows patients/participants to display as much or as little exhibitionism as they wish in a protected environment.
Another boon: contributors get to celebrate the features of real people because mostly all we get to see in the media are photoshopped bodies bearing no resemblance to our own (or anyone’s for that matter). Some patients/participants, seeing their bodies imaged in a new or unusual way, have told me that the session and the photos have helped them deal with body issues. For many the experience winds up being therapeutic or even healing.
1. THE WAITING ROOM
People sit in the waiting room (arranged to look like a real one in a medical office), striking up conversations that lead to cross-cultural dialogue. The set up also provides a way to integrate contemporary art into everyday, communal situations. Patients/participants in the past range in ethnicity and age (from infant to octogenarian); some installations have even included a few pets. Everyone fills out a “medical”/ questionnaire (that asks humorous questions about photo, rather than medical, history) and presents it when they’re called into the office for a consultation.
2. THE OFFICE
In my performative role of photo practitioner, I discuss with the patient/participant his/her body part selection. Here preexisting conditions are a plus. Reasons for choices vary: they like/dislike a particular spot; they want a representation of a place on their body they can’t easily see; a significant other or friends characterizes them by a specific feature; a body part reminds them of a family member or sparks a vivid memory.
3. THE STUDIO
A digital photo is taken in the private, sectioned-off studio space with patients/participants fully engaging in the selection of their images. If they’re not pleased, I reshoot (and sometimes reshoot again until they are). The choice is immediately printed out and placed in a plastic badge attached to a lanyard. The badges can then be worn around the neck like a VIP pass. Patients/participants presenting with their badges create further conversation among visitors. Photos and badges are free; people take their photographs/art work home with them as a memento so their participation is acknowledged. It’s a way of thanking them for their help and support of the project.
Participants/patients are given a second badge to hang wherever they wish on the waiting room walls. Figuring out where to place the image is entertaining and many get quite creative about it. This is also a way that their contribution becomes an integral and ongoing part of the installation and it affords them the opportunity to not only take pride in their bodies but to return to see their photos and/or show their friends. Repeat visits are encouraged and patients/participants can undergo treatment as often as needed or desired.