Meg Birnbaum of Somerville, MA
To view a gallery of the Exhibit.
When I first started working on this project, I thought that I was simply fascinated with performers
performing. But it unwittingly became a positive lesson for me in the infinite ways of finding community
and building personal connections.
Last winter I read, in a local publication, about a young woman, Zehara, who in her mid-twenties performed as a snake charmer and belly dancer. She was also responsible for putting together ten side-show performers for a night of performances. The evening went seamlessly and I was duly impressed with Zehara’s performance and her enviable organizational skills. I emailed her asking her if she would model for me and she accepted. I found the transformation that she went through between the time she got out of her car and when she stepped in front of the camera to be fascinating.
Photographing artists in costume and performing as other personas is nothing new, but I realized that while I had seen many fascinating photographs of this, I had seen few portraits taken of both the day-today person but then again in costume or as another persona. I wanted to understand what chain of events lead each person to their particular chosen method of performing.
When does someone know that they
want to swallow swords and walk on broken glass, or at what point does a love of history become so
strong that that person desires to fully explore a period of time through another’s clothing, behavior and
life experiences. When do you know that you want to be one of the few women in the world to jump
into deep water wearing 50 lbs. of metal locks and chains or live your life in public through a cartoon
graphic novel version of self?
I found one person through a yoga class, one through my dental hygienist’s computer dating experiences,one through attending a historical reenactment and one through researching the internet. I wanted to
make the photographs personal, one at a time and sometimes in collaboration. I became aware that
for many of the people I’ve photographed, the experience of performing and exploring other personas
became a positive act and solution towards coping with difficult and problematic personal situations such
as being overweight, the process of transgendering, or the alienation of adolescent geekiness. For some
people, following a personal obsession has became a way to give back such as a burlesque performer
developing workshops in building a better body image, or in a historic interpreter founding and directing
an organization devoted to living history presentations or a transgendered person presenting drag
workshops to help others through the process.
I hoped that through this project I could discover the unifying element that performers had (that I don’t)
and what enabled them to take such risks in public. I’m still working on those questions but I have
realized that maybe what I was really looking to discover were ways that I could ‘perform’ better as
a photographer, gain stronger connections with people and find community. megbirnbaumphotography.com
David Johndrow from Austin, TX
To view a gallery of the Exhibit.
The inspiration for this body of work came to me while working in my garden, where the most interesting things happen on a very small scale; things that at first glance appear quite ordinary, but turn out to be, on closer inspection, sublimely beautiful.