Student Choice: Baz Gilligan-Kim, class of 2019

“Space Writing (Self-Portrait),” 1935, gelatin silver print by Man Ray, American, 1890–1976. Museum Purchase, Lloyd O. and Marjorie Strong Coulter Fund. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

In this 1935 photograph titled Space Writing (Self-Portrait), Man Ray obscures himself behind lines drawn using a penlight in an otherwise dark frame. In the background, we see what appears to be the intersection of two adjacent walls. Shapes, perhaps shadows, are visible against this backdrop. In the foreground, the artist has written his name and sketched the outline of his body with the penlight. He was unable to see these marks when he made them because they are only visible once the image is developed and printed. This left many of the formal qualities of the finished product to chance.

In this photograph, Man Ray has boldly invited the viewer to engage with a visual riddle for which the solution is not only well hidden, but infinitely deferred into obscurity. This delightfully elusive self-portrait is a wonderful celebration of identity, ephemerality, and illusion.

In addition to being compelling visually, this photograph has had a lasting impact on how I navigate the concept of identity in my own life. Seeing work like this has given me a window into a mode of being in which identity is not an equation in need of solving, but rather an unending experiment. In this assertive, yet enigmatic self-portrait, Man Ray has boldly subverted the notion of self. I find this deeply affirming and inspiring as I continue to explore my personal practice as a student, artist, and individual.

Baz Gilligan-Kim, class of 2019

I discovered this photograph through a friend who will be displaying it as part of a small exhibition that will be on display in Bowdoin’s Special Collections this spring. This exhibition serves as the culmination of Professor Tara Kohn’s seminar on the history of photography in the United States, a course which, among other things, aims to engage with Bowdoin’s extensive photography collection.

Baz Gilligan-Kim, class of 2019

 

 

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Baz Gilligan-Kim, class of 2019

 

 

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