In the series "Not In Your Face" the t-shirt is starkly evident but the photographs are not about the t-shirt per se. They are about self-identity and validation. Each one of these people reveals a part of themselves that advertises their hopes, ideals, likes, dislikes, political views, and personal mantras. They wear a kind of badge of honor that says "yes, I belong to this group not the other."
By photographing from the back these pictures try to challenge the time-honored tradition of a portrait being of the face and tests whether body type, dress and demeanor can tell us just as much as a facial expression might. The back view would seemingly make these people anonymous but we can see their humanity emerge. Here the t-shirt wearer knowing the photographer was only taking the shirt, seems to self-consciously relax and they show their trust and vulnerability.
This is an aspect of society that may not register with everyone, but the fact that these people are willing to wear their message on their back indicates they want to be seen and are involved in a kind of street performance art. The diverse types uncovered attempt to be democratic with the only criteria being that there is a message on their back and their willingness to pose. Various cultural identities are evident, not only with the message of the shirt, but with hair styles, belts, jeans, tattoos and their personal stances.
A collective consciousness appears when the photos are grouped together with similar political slogans and personal imperatives. Sayings like "moral courage", "hard times bring hard luck", "lost soul" and an army of winged angels demonstrate these are deeply felt messages and even life choices. This is an attempt to define a generation with a portrait that allows the viewer participation in a decision about how these individuals would like to be seen and heard from.
Editors' note: We've been fans of Susan Barnett's work for a long time. It is with great pleasure that we share with you a link to her newly published work "T: A Typology of T-Shirts." The book, like her photo series, is fun, colorful and offers a surprise on every page. Beyond the immediate appeal lies an artfulness and depth that is well worth spending some time with. Enjoy!
T: A Typology of T-Shirts
by Susan A. Barnett
Publisher: Dewi Lewis Publishing
Hardcover: 224 pages