I Remember Who I Was - Portraits of the Traumatically Brain Injured
It has been said that empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—is at the heart of the photographic act. This portrait project, examining survivors of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), was inspired by interviews with returning war veterans,whose comments consistently touched on the frustration of their injuries being invisible, unlike the prosthetics and scars of their fellow soldiers. Their behaviors were often interpreted as laziness, lack of intelligence, or worse.
The concept for this project uses densely detailed portraits, intensely lit, to map the face’s imperfections as an analogy to the injury underneath--in effect, making their unseen scar "visible". Shot with a 40-megapixel camera, and printed at 30” x 40”, the images have a dramatic and immediate impact. Because societal conventions prevent us from looking closely at a person who seems different, this approach is for the scale and detail of the images to arrest the attention of viewers, creating an opportunity for closer scrutiny. The proximity creates a kind of intimacy, which, accompanied by the stories, forges a connection to the subject. The intent is to bridge the gulf--create an understanding--between viewer and subject.
The project, an outgrowth of earlier work with the Texas TBI Advisory Council, will generate a traveling exhibition of 20-25 large prints, accompanied by the stories of the impact of TBI on the survivors and the people in their lives. The subjects will reflect a broad spectrum of brain injuries and demographics. The exhibit will be oriented toward public policymakers and their constituents, with the intention of increasing support for TBI rehabilitation.
Historically, the environmental portrait has been synonymous with documentary photography. In making these densely detailed, large-scale prints, I am seeing a different way of telling the subject’s story. Suddenly, the face, with all its beauty and imperfection magnified much more precisely than possible with large format film, reveals the subject’s inner landscape. The visage itself acts as a gateway, making the photographs psychological studies: these portraits are about who the subjects are, not where they are or what they're doing. I want to explore my ability to tell stories in this way—to meld the medium’s history with its future. I want to create a transformative moment in the heart and mind of the person who would normally walk away.