Work In Depth: On the Outside Looking Out
Work In Depth is a series where the artist takes on the role of viewer on a piece of their own creation. While the creator's interpretation is by no means the last word, it is at the very least the most intimate perspective one can have of a work. If desired it may also serve as a means by which a critic may measure the artist's success in conveying their intent.
(Fuck a critic. What we want to do is to satisfy the curious. Because curiosity should be cultivated and curious people make for awesome people. And to satisfy awesome people is satisfying. Awesome.)
At first glance, "On the Outside Looking Out" may convey a simplistic appeal in its serene, bucolic, pleasingly geometric order. Yet thematically, the title attempts to nudge the viewer toward something more beneath the surface.
Growing up as an Asian-American in the Deep South I have realized while at the time I had endeavored to "blend in" as best I could, for reasons of my appearance and beyond, that in those circumstances I was always destined to be at least somewhat of an outsider. And as a kid with wavering self-esteem and an awareness too lacking to assess that upbringing dispassionately, that situation sometimes proved to be tough. But as an adult one learns to find the positive in one's past and especially the rougher times. In that light it now seems likely those hurdles in youth played a part in providing what has solidified itself as a nearly perpetual "outsider" perspective with which I view most things. A perspective that has afforded me to be more detached from convention and more easily take a creatively objective point-of-view that is thematic throughout my work.
This photograph is a both a summation and expansion on those reflective notions. The house here may symbolize societal structure. Human-made cultural constructs which in and of themselves may hold a certain comfortable beauty - the geometry and wood making for a linear but rustic aesthetic parallel to Southern (and perhaps even broader American) ideals of tradition and simplicity - but when taking a closer look that same structure has almost completely blocked out the sunlight that is refracted by the shingles burning almost white-hot, but leaving the inside largely in darkness.
Then, looking beyond through opening in the second doorway there is a slice of illumination, and it offers a view of a tree and greenery - symbolic of growth, and the bits of twisting flora serve to contrast the linear and angular building.
In this one might hear an almost Thoreau-like voice speaking in this photo, but for me there is also a broader sense of just taking a step back, and the light to be found there when one does. It isn't a damning indictment of the structure which dominates the frame, but quietly points out the darkness one is subject to under it's shelter.
Altogether it's the view one may see when one removes oneself from the context of given constructs. And despite this, the open door of this domicile is inviting. There is tranquility in shelter. Yet one's focus draws ironically toward what is, in this frame, out of focus. It's the symbolism in that - to look to what is less known - which I hope resonates most strongly with the viewer.
So it's for these reasons I view this still life (taken in Charleston, SC, sister city to where I was raised in Savannah, GA) as, counter-intuitively, as one of my most autobiographical photographs - an attribute one would expect more from a self-portrait. Yet I hope in sharing it as art it yields a broader message - that it's only when one removes themselves from cultural traditions and social constructs (or any other consuming situation/environment) that we can truly ascertain their value - and limitations. And in that realization we might broadly reject acceptance, and instead of fearing rejection will in all things be compelled to endeavor toward that shakier (or is it firmer?) station as an outsider.
E.E. Norris is a photographer, founder-editor of Concrete & Light, and director of The Art Cart NYC. He would like us all to look - intently and in every direction - so that we might share a sustained and profound sense of joy that may come from observing the infinite complexity of the physical universe and human potential.