Kelli Connell’s photographs seem to be everywhere these days, and soon they will be in Los Angeles, opening on February 25th at the Kopeikin Gallery. The exhibition, Double Life, will run through March 31, 2012. I have been a long time fan of her constructed realities, executed to perfection and visually charged. Only recently, I discovered that it is not Kelli Connell in the photographs, but a long time collaborator. No matter who the subbject, Kelli ‘s work is a powerful investigation of identity, sexuality, and gender roles and in some ways, the truest sense of self portraiture. She forces the viewer to explore their own identity and the process can be slightly unsettling.
Kelli received an MFA from Texas Woman’s University and currently lives and teaches in Chicago. She has exhibited widely and her work is held in many collections including Microsoft, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Columbus Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Haggerty Museum of Art and The Dallas Museum of Art. Her monograph, Kelli Connell: Double Life was published by DECODE Books in Fall 2011. Kelli will be at the Kopeikin Gallery for a book signing on Thursday, February 23, 5:30 – 7:30.
I’ve always seen identity as something that is very fluid and as such I usually shy away from labels altogether. Still, a larger part of this work explores the nature of identity formation. In my own personal history, the process of questioning my sexuality was confounding, because the conventional categories, and even the need to categorize in the first place felt like…something being pushed on me. Meanwhile the internal experience of my sexual and gender identity was quite natural and yet not a static thing at all. Perhaps this work is trying to figure out why we rely on categories and labels the way we do.
These images were created from scanning and manipulating two or more negatives in Adobe Photoshop. Using the computer as a tool to create a “believable” situation is not that different from accepting any photograph as an object of truth, or by creating a story about two people seen laughing, making-out, or quarreling in a restaurant. These photographs reconstruct the private relationships that I have experienced personally, witnessed in public, or watched on television. The events portrayed in these photographs look believable, yet have never occurred. By digitally creating a photograph that is a composite of multiple negatives of the same model in one setting, the self is exposed as not a solidified being in reality, but as a representation of social and interior investigations that happen within the mind.
This work represents an autobiographical questioning of sexuality and gender roles that shape the identity of the self in intimate relationships. Polarities of identity such as the masculine and feminine psyche, the irrational and rational self, the exterior and interior self, the motivated and resigned self are portrayed. By combining multiple photographic negatives of the same model in each image, the dualities of the self are defined by body language and clothing worn. This work is an honest representation of the duality or multiplicity of the self in regards to decisions about intimate relationships, family, belief systems and lifestyle options.
The importance of these images lies in the representation of interior dilemmas portrayed as an external object – a photograph. Through these images the audience is presented with “constructed realities”. I am interested in not only what the subject matter says about myself, but also what the viewers response to these images says about their own identities and social constructs.