When I first heard about the Profile Picture Exhibition I was excited and energized by thought of it. Not only did I want to check it out, I—in my signature Pollyanna mindset—was already figuring out how to help spread the word about a project that seemed to be fueled by the aspiration to celebrate and showcase the photographic art of the masses. Our profile photos (as shared on any of our social media outlets) are in fact, personal expressions of who we are as individuals so my thought was that a collection of them (in a museum no less!) would have the potential to represent all of us as a creative communal whole in a beautifully unique and artfully eclectic way. That’s what I had hoped for anyway.
I clicked on the Facebook group and read the tagline. Be Art. Right on. This is going to be good. Thankfully, before I clicked “like”, I clicked on the video that was created as the entry point for those looking for a better understanding the project. My hopeful heart sank the minute it started and by the end I was not only totally deflated, I was deeply disappointed. When an f*bomb was dropped within the first few seconds of the video, I was bummed, but still listening and watching. I’m actually a pretty big fan of a well-used f*bomb. Unfortunately, the context and the tone of how it was used really put me off. Then the real disappointment came with image after image that flashed on the screen. Urinals, vomit, hot pink panties, and irreverent messages painted on body parts, one after the next all set to the soundtrack of a young, ill-manned man whining about how boring the portraiture of the past is and how our Facebook “portraits” are “so much better”. Seriously? And to prove your point, you’re sharing the profile photos that are shared in THAT video? Did The National Portrait Gallery, the Louvre, or the Met see this video? Did they really exchange emails with these folks? Did they meet in person? How did a project like this speak to any institution of art? Maybe it’s just a giant PR trick. I can’t help but wonder.
In under two minutes, all of the potential I saw in the project was gone. I guess I wouldn’t be “liking” this page after all. I guess I wouldn’t help spread the word. How could I rally my friends, family and photography community around something like this? I clearly couldn’t. I clearly wouldn’t.
And thus began a sequence of thoughts and emails and phone calls with people that reacted large in part the way I did. Elevating our photographic images to an art and sharing them on a wall of a museum IS a really awesome idea. That’s not really the issue in question. It is above all else, the video; the way the project was being presented to people (young people specifically). The common thread that ran through my conversations was that this was not the way we (as women, men, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, artists, photographers, social media advocates and Facebook users) wanted to be represented. And as I began to look at the profile pictures of my Facebook peers (who span over a fairly diverse demographic) I saw so many of these tiny images that I saw expressed hope, beauty, emotion, resolve, fierceness, and sparkle. Color, shape, composition, and light. Expressions, symbols, meaning, and intention. And that was when I began to feel that all was not lost. In fact, I was overwhelmed with possibility, that who we are and how we choose to share ourselves IS awesome and powerful and important. And because I know all this to be true, the video that is the “front face” (pun intended) of the project feels like a mockery. I guess that’s why I feel so strongly about it.
A few days after I discovered the project and began this post, a friend forwarded me an interview that the people behind the Profile Picture Exhibition project did with the site B-Uncut and the irony is, these guys seem like a decent bunch. They site their inspiration as the authentic, stirring, and visually stunning National Geographic documentary Life in a Day. And this is where the irony comes in; I loved that film! And if the imputes really did come from that, then no wonder the museums were listening. With that, my burning question still remains, how on earth did the project with that kind of potential end up with a public pitch like that Be Art video? Perhaps these guys really are well-meaning, just misguided. Or maybe they are convinced that speaking this irreverent language to the general public (especially the young general public) is the only way to ignite the quick click response they need to move forward.
I guess I could just shoot these guys a simple email asking them to rethink the video. I could try to sit them down like a mother would, urging them to reconsider their approach. To give them a pep talk (as I often do my own child) about how their intentions might be misconstrued and if they’d just take a closer look, they might better understand that they might very well be doing more harm than good. I could. But I’m not their mother and I don’t want to be. And they’d likely scoff at me. After all, their call to action seems to be working. In fact, they state that the people at Facebook might even get behind what they’re doing to make the project more “brilliant”. With that video? Really Facebook? Maybe YOU could play the parental role here and have a heart to heart with these guys.
So, after hearing my thoughts, what’s your take on all of this? I know I can speak for myself and for some of the others I have talked about this and say that we’d like to offer a different approach and share a different perspective. We want to gather and share the kinds of images that have the power to make a meaningful statement, express the splendor of our humanity, or even potentially “stop wars” (their words not mine). If we build it, will you come? Will you join us in an affirmation that what we are doing matters and that our profile pictures speak positively of who we are and what we deliberately choose to put out into this world? Do you believe in the power of photography and that we can use that power for good? We sure hope so. Oh, your parents and your children will be invited too.
(Want a few visuals of some of the profile pictures that I think are museum wall worthy? Here are some of my favorite profile photos to date. A special thanks to the fine folks that allowed me to share them here.)
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For more about Tracey and how she elevates the everyday, visit her at traceyclark.com.
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