Kurt Prynne, a selection of images from its body of works.
Q: How do you reveal identity in a portrait?
A: KURT publishes primarily on social media - the currency of social media is the selfie, the ‘curated’ identity - more or less an exaggeration of reality and, in some cases, a total work of fiction. When I publish my KURT images on Instagram, there is a literal link from the portrait to this digital identity and, on another level, there is an interplay between social media identity and the fictionalized brand identity KURT PRYNNE. So which identity is revealed? Queer identity? Masculine identity? Once you've literally stripped away the layers of someone, the clothes they wear, their environment, what are the clues to their identity? By wearing their ‘uncomfortable truths’ outwardly, the hope is to allow people to tap into or reveal a vulnerability or side of themselves that is normally hidden.
In my portraits, I am hopefully giving the subjects a different context to play with; their ordinary identity on social media is a bit removed and is not restraining them as much as their own selfies, so ideally they can play with something that is different for most of them, by 1. being mostly unclothed and 2. wearing clothing with provocative messaging that they can engage with literally (‘Heterofuckable’, ‘Essentially Unlovable’, ‘Souloist’, ‘Put Me On Your Instastory’, ‘What’s Wrong’). It's like an open ended question - a prompt for play and improvisation.
Q: How does the viewer's aspect of reading a possible identity in a self-portrait involve self-promotion as an artist?
A: Most selfies are promotional. We have learned, as viewers, to decode the tropes of images of the self on social media. Even though social media is full of self portraits, it is not a context for purely artistic self representation. There is always an element of self promotion.
Not only are we the most viewed or consumed generation, we are also producing this volume of images for the first time, many of them of ourselves. So we are not just looking at ourselves more and more, but we are also creating these images of ourselves. We have created a visual language that only 'reads' on Instagram, it's impossible to escape this while we are creating images for this medium. What I try to do is to move a bit beyond the visual language of the selfie, even though what I'm doing is still primarily disseminated through Instagram. You could say I come full circle, from a photographer formally taking a portrait, past the self portrait, past the selfie (informal) and back to a photographer taking a formal portrait - that still uses some of the vocabulary of the medium (a selfie). I think I occupy an in-between space, not quite the selfie timer and not quite a professional photographer, where I allow a level of intimacy with the subject so that they feel able to be vulnerable and close, almost like I wasn't there when it was captured. It's a selfie plus... somewhere between a bathroom selfie and studio portrait. It doesn't have the pressure of a studio portrait, but maintains the at-home casualness of the selfie whilst also involving an external eye that frames the photo, offering a different side of the subject compared to if they were totally alone.
Q: How does the construct of identity influence self-portraiture?
A: We are always presenting ourselves somehow. We are creating our identity and self presenting it even when alone. The better question is how true these narratives are to our actual self and how we allow them to influence our work. You would think that with the ease at which we can take a selfie we would have even more accurate photos of ourselves, but it is equally easy to manipulate the photo from the comfort of our phones. This is even changing the cosmetic surgery people are getting done, desiring to look and identify like an idealized phone filter. How do we escape this? It's ubiquitous. It's harder to trust anyone's images. I hope my work allows people who are normally self-constructing this identity to put on phrases from our brand - ‘uncomfortable truths’ so to speak - and be vulnerable enough to allow me to photograph an identity they normally do not allow to be seen.
Q: Does gender matter in self-portraits?
A: Yes. The self-portrait is a place where we can play with our own gender expression and see that represented. It is a safe place in which to try on and experiment with what our gender means to us. A lot of female artists historically made self-portraits because it's a place where women could explore their own identity and play with that outside of the male gaze - in a context not normally available to them. The selfie is that, exponentially. Everyone has the ability to take photos of themselves and play with how they look - filters to change our face - our makeup and gender is a part of that.
Q: Should a portrait always have a function?
A: Yes, every photo has a function. Mostly we use them to remember a specific moment of our life, and these are not necessarily only the joyful ones. Portraits document time. Our face changes, our body changes, people change. Sometimes we don’t recognise ourselves in portraits. This can be fascinating and scary at the same time. That's the power and the function of a portrait.
Q: What is the core difference between a selfie and a self-portrait?