© 2023 by Emma Dei.
 

The Risk Pictures


In "The Risk Pictures," my portrait collaborators and I experiment with the traditional relationship between artist and subject. This is the result of my experience of, and consideration of, what it means to be the object of toxic staring. People who live in stigmatized bodies are often made to feel that they should be ashamed of their physical selves simply by the judgmental, aggressive of the gaze leveled in their direction.

 

Even sitting for a portrait can be a very vulnerable experience, as it demands agreeing to be stared at for hours at a time. As it is, there has been a long precedent of power struggles in the history of portraiture.  The artist, as examiner, may seem to possess more power than the subject. If the portrait was commissioned, the subject appears to hold the power. However, nearly none of my portrait work comes through commission.

 

I wanted to make myself as vulnerable as my subject is during the portrait process. To change this relationship, my collaborators come to my studio (in my house) for three hour sitting. At the two-hour mark, I leave for at least an hour, which means my subject is in complete control of my home. Most importantly, I give them all my art supplies and ask them to alter their portrait. I can't erase what they do, only respond to it. We repeat this process till the work is complete. The final piece is signed by both of us.

 

In some cases, my collaborator's choices are obvious; in others, quite subtle.

RIVA LEHRER