Patti Levey Statement
The Awakening is a series of self-portraits shot in New Mexico over the past ten years. As the body is the container of the soul, buildings are containers of energy and light. The juxtaposition of my human flesh against these crumbling forms and textures to me represents life, death, and rebirth.
Each building is a wilderness of decay created by a collaboration between human beings and nature. Here the inside and outside have merged. I find it all to be extremely beautiful.
I am intrigued and fascinated by what is forgotten, abandoned, discarded. I revel in what endures. This idea is best articulated by the Buddhist idea of impermanence. Everything changes, ages, sickens, dies and is reborn, recycled. This worldview is especially pertinent in a culture that denies and detests death and decay. To hold death at arms length is to appreciate the fragility of life.
For me, making self-portraits is both a political statement as well as a spiritual practice. I believe that it is as radical for a woman to photograph herself as it is for her to love herself in any society that values women primarily as objects. I also believe that Art is a bridge between worlds, inner and outer, physical and spiritual. In this sense I hope that my work contains evidence of this fleeting state of grace, this bridge, that connects us to ourselves, each other and all things.
"Taking Liberty" was inspired by a post 9/11 period of self-reflection. It is not a statement about war or religion but an open-ended question addressing issues of personal freedom and identity.
The burqa is the most conservative form of veil worn by Muslim women. When worn by choice it is a symbol of religious devotion and personal honor. The burqa, as a garment, limits the wearer's ability to walk and move freely as well as her ability to see; the cloth mesh obscures focus and eliminates peripheral vision. The burqa renders the wearer completely anonyomous. It covers not only the body, but the face, thus concealing individual identity, facial expression and emotion. I have been photographing myself, mostly in the nude, for more than twenty years. I have to ask myself whether my method of self-expression is a choice or a compulsion. Am I revealing myself or hiding behind an image of myself as an object? Who am I beneath the veil of personal freedom?
The American flag is a symbol of independence and freedom for Americans. Post 9/11, the American flag has become a symbol of patriotism in support of the "War Against Terrorism". I chose to wrap myself in the flag because I feel uncomfortably unpatriotic and un-independent. The veil of freedom is an illusion because as individual citizens or as a nation we are all dependent on each other. What is true liberty but a tolerance for differences amongst people, a recognition of our similarities and a sense of compassion for "the enemy", especially when the enemy is ourselves?
The United States government refers to civilian casualties in Iraq as "Collateral Damage". Statistics show that 50%of the population of Iraq is under the age of eighteen and that 25% of all children in Iraq are malnourished. The photographs in "Collateral Damage" depict who the real victims of war are: women and children.
I have been using self-portrait Photography as an Art form as well as a means to self-examination, empowerment and healing for more than twenty years.
Making self-portraits is a spontaneous, intuitive and somewhat mysterious process for me. Since I do not see myself through the camera lens, photographing myself is an act of faith. Working blindly, as I do, makes photographing as much a kinesthetic as a visual process; I feel where I am in the frame. I use a 2 1/4 format camera, a tripod and a cable release. I sometimes include the cable release in my photographs as evidence that I am photographing myself and because it is a metaphoric lifeline to the camera and therefore the viewer.
The multiple exposure images were created in the camera, on the negative, not in the darkroom.