Members' Online Gallery's Portfolio Competition January 2011
Selections made by Chris Bennett, Founder and Director of Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, OR.

Emerging Artist

Meg Birnbaum

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.

Mid-Career Artist

David Johndrow

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.

Most of these photographs were taken in my backyard, and the images reflect a direct communion with fleeting natural phenomena in the process of living and changing from moment to moment. I realized I didn't have to travel far to find interesting landscapes; I just had to enter deeply into my own garden, where there resides a seemingly infinite number of living things.